McHenry County Board to consider bonus pay for Valley Hi Nursing Home staff during COVID-19 outbreak

Nursing home employees would be paid an extra $25 to $50 per shift under proposal

The McHenry County Board advisory committee approved a new bonus program for Valley Hi Nursing Home Thursday that would give employees bonuses of $25 to $50 for each shift they work during an active outbreak of COVID-19.

After identifying two positive cases of COVID-19 in staff members on Dec. 3, an outbreak of the virus spread quickly throughout Valley Hi, infecting a total of 13 staff and 36 residents, five of whom have since died, the facility’s administrator, Tom Annarella, said in the committee meeting Thursday.

“There is definitely a higher risk to the employees just to be in the building and the amount of workload that it has created,” he said. “I cannot stress enough how important it is that we recognize what has happened with the efforts that the staff have put in.”

The resolution would institute a $50 bonus for each shift worked in a COVID-19 unit and a $25 bonus for each shift worked in the general building, according to the proposal. The bonuses would be awarded only when there are active cases of the virus within the facility.

The seven members of the County Board’s Public Health and Community Services Committee voted unanimously to pass the resolution Thursday morning during the committee’s first meeting of the year. The resolution will now go before the full McHenry County Board at its next meeting on Jan. 19.

If approved by the full board, bonuses would be applied retroactively dating back to the start of the outbreak, Annarella said. The program would cost an additional $2,500 per day, or $17,500 per week, which would be paid using federal COVID-19 stimulus dollars, he said.

This December marked the first major outbreak at Valley Hi, but Annarella said most other long-term care facilities across the country have instituted similar bonus programs for their staff during outbreaks to account for the added stress and health hazards employees face in coming to work.

Board member Carolyn Schofield applauded Annarella for being forward-thinking in looking at what other places are doing so the county can avoid losing staff to other facilities in a time when they are needed most.

“I know we’ve struggled in the past with losing [staff] and it’s better to know ahead of time what others are doing,” Schofield said.

Also on Thursday, Susan Karras, public health nursing director for the McHenry County Department of Health, gave an update on the county’s vaccination plan, which she said has been in the works since March.

The department will use a centralized registration system that will be opened up to eligible residents as the county moves through the various phases of its distribution plan in accordance with guidelines from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Karras said. Registered residents will receive electronic notifications with information on how to get their vaccine when it is their time to do so.

The county has identified two drive-thru sites and is considering a third site where it could offer “mass vaccinations” when the county moves to Phase 1b and then on to subsequent phases, she said. Phase 1b in Illinois includes front-line essential workers and residents over the age of 65.

Kelli Duncan

Kelli Duncan is a reporter for the Northwest Herald covering county government as well as the communities of Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Marengo and Harvard. She has previously covered local politics, immigration and feature stories.