Florida Hospital Orlando’s 24/7 Commute Challenge
Health care employer uses Best Workplaces for CommutersSM to help care for employees and reduce parking demand.
It’s Monday morning at Florida Hospital Orlando and, like nearly every Monday morning in America’s largest admitting hospital, the human resources team is welcoming another group of brand new employees. Some weeks it’s 50, other weeks 150, but each time the presentation agenda includes a popular and important section: commuter benefits and services.
These new employees will commute to a radically different place than the one that greeted the hospital’s inaugural staff in 1908, when local Seventh-day Adventists opened what was then called the Florida Sanitarium, with only 20 beds and $4.83 in seed money. The little two-story facility with a wrap-around porch was nestled into the sand and trees of then-rural Florida. No air conditioning (until the 1950s). No parking garage. No commuter services.
Today, the 172-acre health care campus on the shore of Lake Estelle is home to an always-in-motion population of about 8,000 employees serving almost 54,000 inpatients and more than 173,000 outpatients annually. The Orlando campus has four parking garages, with a SunRail station situated between two of them.
Given the city-sized demand for transportation and convenient parking, Florida Hospital’s management determined that shifting as many solo-driving employees as possible to other commute options would eliminate the need to construct yet another expensive garage, as well as free up more parking spaces for patients.
Building a new garage would cost tens of millions of dollars according to Jody Barry, MBA, CCIM, vice president for facilities and construction for Adventist Health System, which owns Florida Hospital Orlando. Parking is provided at no charge to employees.
Strategic Use of Benefits
Susan Hoover, Florida Hospital’s director of benefits and people systems, recognized these non-driving options would have to be easy and affordable for commuters. In 2006, the hospital began providing a transit benefit that enabled employees to buy Lynx bus passes with pre-tax income, and pay 50 percent less by purchasing them through the hospital’s commuter program.
In 2012, the hospital added a bicycle commuter reimbursement of up to $20 per month, as well as secure bike-parking facilities. A SunRail pass subsidy was made available when the trains began running in April 2014.
The hospital also offers telework and flextime on a department-specific basis. As a health care provider, not all positions are appropriate or eligible for telework, but nurses and other clinical staff are able to choose their own schedules.
The hospital offers these benefits not only to reduce the number of campus-bound vehicles, but to enhance employees’ wellbeing, Hoover explained.
“While we don’t think an employee will choose Florida Hospital Orlando simply because we provide this benefit, when combined with all of our benefit options I believe employees will see that the hospital is concerned about them as a whole person — including their work and personal lives — and that this will help to make their lives easier,” she said.
Besides, adding commuter assistance to its comprehensive benefits package was consistent with Florida Hospital’s public promise to “care for our employees as well as we care for our patients — in mind, body and spirit,” as its website says. Riding SunRail is a much healthier, stress-free way of commuting to work — no traffic to contend with, cleaner air to breathe, opportunity to build relationships on the train, encourages walking, and employees arrive to work with a more positive attitude ready to care for patients and each other.
Hoover said that, as with any employer, the hospital’s benefits play an important role in helping recruit, retain and engage employees — which is also why Florida Hospital Orlando has been a Best Workplaces for Commuters® member in 2015 and 2016.
“Employees are looking for companies that are recognized as Best Workplaces, so we believe this designation will enhance recruitment,” she said.
Investing in the Future
The advent of Orlando’s SunRail light rail system in 2014 opened up another commute option for hospital employees. When officials decided that tracks would go through the health care campus, the hospital decided to build the $3.5 million Florida Hospital Health Village SunRail station.
Hoover said the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) approached the hospital and asked when the majority of its employees travel to work.
“We ran the data for them, showing commuting time windows, and they established the train schedule around that for our employees and for Orlando Health nearby,” she said.
The station opened in May 2014. SunRail runs trains Monday through Friday through the Health Village station, with ridership of approximately 200. Employees are able to purchase SunRail passes through payroll deduction using pre-tax dollars, receiving a 25 percent subsidy from Florida Hospital.
At the station, riders have access to Juice Bike Share, as well as ride-hailing service from Lyft, Mears Transportation and Uber.
SunRail became an especially important option when FDOT launched the $2.3 billion I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project in 2015, a six-year, 21-mile transformation of the main north-south interstate through Orlando used by drivers bound for Florida Hospital Orlando. According to FDOT, this revamped section of I-4 will bring four new Express Lanes, reconstructed interchanges, completely rebuilt bridges and what the agency calls “an exciting new look and feel.”
With significantly increased traffic congestion on I-4 during the project, commuting through the corridor may be more stressful than exciting — a fact of life Hoover and her colleagues point to when explaining the stress-reducing advantages of riding SunRail to the campus rather than driving. Plus, SunRail riders have Wi-Fi access on the train.
“We continue to work with FDOT to consider other commute options, including Emergency Ride Home (ERH) and car/van pooling incentives,” said Hoover. “Not only will alternative commuting options help our community by reducing the number of cars on the road, our employees will have a way to reduce some stress in their lives. It becomes a win-win for those employees who can chose commute alternatives.”
(c) 2017 Best Workplaces for Commuters