Food, family and co-workers often greet retirees at Self Regional Healthcare’s private dining room for their deserved send-off.
Or, at least those celebratory get-togethers were common. Now gathering en masse is seen as a potential way to spread COVID-19, especially among the hospital staff members serving in the front lines of the pandemic.
But measures meant to prevent the spread of disease didn’t stop health care workers from celebrating their former coworkers.
In a Tuesday morning vehicle parade led by a Greenwood police escort, Self Regional retirees — including 75 who took voluntary early retirement — waved to well-wishers. They drove past the hospital’s main entrance and through the campus. There were posters, balloons and even someone set up with a plastic kiddie pool and umbrella, wishing the eligible retirees some rest, relaxation and fun.
While not everyone was able to break away from work for the leave-taking, those who did enjoyed a bit of sunshine and fresh air.
“We have folks who normally would have retired during this period but also an early retirement incentive for a number of folks,” said Mark Hyatt, Self director of marketing and public relations, noting the retirees celebrated Tuesday have a combined total of 1,598 years of service to Self Regional Healthcare.
Mike Dixon, Self Regional Healthcare vice president of human resources, said those retired had to be at least 59 years of age and in an eligible position. Their years of employment with the hospital range from three to 47.
“The incentive plan provides them with a year’s worth of health insurance at the same rates they would pay if they were still working, which is important to a lot of people,” Dixon said. “It provides salary continuation for a number of months, depending on how long they have been with the organization. Everybody in the parade today voluntarily decided to retire. We rolled out the plan initially in February and then COVID-19 happened.”
Furloughs happened during the pandemic, too, to reduce staffing costs amid decreased revenues.
“With social distancing required, we can’t do our normal sort of celebration so we decided on a drive-by parade,” Self Regional President and CEO Jim Pfeiffer said. “We are blessed with a great team. The names of all the folks who are now retired are on a banner in front of our main entrance. We had planned on retirements before COVID-19. Many were looking at retirement and health insurance coverage and we were offering severance packages, depending on the length of time they have been employed here.”
The global novel coronavirus pandemic has changed things for all businesses, Pfeiffer said, even health care. And some of the positions vacated won’t be filled.
“For those that are not, there will be a cost-savings, but for others, we will find replacements,” Pfeiffer said. “Other health care organizations have done this same thing. Those who are retiring have put in years of service to this organization and I’m happy for them. They are all good people.”
Those who retired Tuesday worked in a number of different departments, including engineering, pharmacy and hospitality.
“Among them is one of our longtime hospitality employees and one of the best greeters we’ve ever had, Rosa Alexander,” Pfeiffer said. “I wish I could clone her.”
Rosa Alexander, 66, of Ninety Six, said she started working at Self Regional as a nursing assistant at age age 19.
“Forty-seven years is a long time,” Alexander said. “I’ve worked in four different capacities during that time — nursing assistant, with the transportation team in x-ray, a dispatcher for hospitality service and lastly as a greeter at the front door, which was just a dream job. I didn’t mind getting up and going to work in the morning. … Seeing employees out there bidding us well today was very nice.”
Alexander said her job as a greeter enabled her to “meet people from all walks of life.”
“That job was a ministry to my soul,” Alexander said. “It’s been an awesome journey. It’s bittersweet for me. I will miss the people the most.”
Construction of the patient tower has been one of the biggest physical changes to the hospital campus Alexander has witnessed during her time employed with Self Regional.
“When this virus is over I will do some traveling and I plan to give back in some capacity, at least twice a week,” Alexander said. “I’ve got a 6-month-old grandbaby and I can’t wait to see him.”
Contact St. Claire Donaghy at 864-992-8934.