The St. Luke’s Health System and two partner organizations have launched an initiative to develop 12 units of housing in Blaine County for St. Luke’s Wood River employees and their families.
St. Luke’s and its partners—the St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation and ARCH Community Housing Trust—conducted a groundbreaking ceremony Monday at the initial development site in the Quigley Farm subdivision on the east side of Hailey.
St. Luke’s Health System and St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation will provide funding for the construction, while ARCH is contributing the land and will oversee construction, St. Luke’s stated in a news release.
The foundation uses donated funds to support St. Luke’s facilities in the Wood River Valley and enhance the services they provide. ARCH is a nonprofit organization that works to promote and develop affordable housing for Blaine County residents.
Construction on four three-bedroom, single-family homes in Quigley Farm will begin this fall, St. Luke’s stated. Construction of an additional eight units, in Hailey and Bellevue, will begin next spring. All units are slated for completion within 12 months of the start of construction, St. Luke’s said.
The homes will be long-term rentals for St. Luke’s Wood River employees who meet criteria established by the hospital. The leases will stipulate that continued employment at St. Luke’s is a condition of staying in the housing.
Carmen Jacobsen, COO and chief nursing officer of St. Luke’s Wood River, said the project addresses a very significant need.
“The limited availability of housing to rent or own is a challenge felt by our entire community and significantly impacts the ability to recruit and retain employees at St. Luke’s Wood River,” she said. “It affects all job families and levels, clinical and non-clinical.”
St. Luke’s Wood River currently has 69 vacant positions, with a vacancy rate much higher than other hospitals in the region, Jacobsen said. Nursing positions account for 28% of the vacancies.
“Despite offering significant financial incentives, the lack of available housing and the cost of living are frequently cited as the primary reason for declination of employment offers,” she said.
A housing shortage in the Wood River Valley has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as hundreds of new residents moved into the area and high demand for real estate drove up sales and rental prices. The rental inventory dropped significantly, studies showed.
As an immediate response, St. Luke’s Wood River has allowed a small number of short-term “traveler” employees to live in RV units in the hospital parking lot.
Chris Roth, St. Luke’s Health System president and CEO, said St. Luke’s is also exploring additional solutions to the problem.
“This is a significant investment to help St. Luke’s Wood River recruit and retain critical health-care workers,” he said. “Our employees are dedicated to helping take care of the community, and St. Luke’s is continuing to pursue several other strategies to support hospital employees and their families.”
Megan Tanous, chief development officer of the St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation, said the COVID-19 pandemic has made the delivery of quality healthcare more important than ever.
“Through it all, our goal to ensure clinical excellence and empower health for all remains paramount, and investing in housing aids in our ability to deliver,” she said. “We are grateful to all who helped put St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation in the position of strength from which it could invest in a housing solution for health-care workers. Generosity has never been more important.”
Michelle Griffith, executive director of ARCH Housing Trust, said she is looking forward to a continued partnership with St. Luke’s and the foundation.
To support the initiative to build housing for health-care workers, visit slwrf.org or call Tanous at 208-727-8444.