This article accompanies HR Problem Solvers for 2010 .
Hammered by the upheaval in the U.S. automotive industry, Toledo and surrounding Lucas County, Ohio, were besieged by an unemployment rate of more than 13 percent. Workers at Mercy Northern Region's employee-assistance program were seeing examples of need crop up nearly every day, even among employees with good-paying jobs.
"We were surprised at the number of employees who were coming to us asking for help in finding food and avoiding foreclosure," says Sue Tignor, regional director for the EAP at Mercy Northern, which consists of seven hospitals in the Toledo area and is a subsidiary of Catholic Healthcare Partners. "Usually, about 4 percent of our requests for help involve this; last year, it accounted for 22 percent."
In response, Tignor and Senior Vice President of HR Gary George created the Mercy Employee Funds for Food. First, Tignor and her team created packets of information on community-aid resources for food, utility subsidies, foreclosure-prevention services and bankruptcy assistance.
Next, using a "Caring for Our Own" theme, they raised more than $12,000 from Mercy employees and used it to purchase food cards from Kroger supermarkets. Mercy's food and nutrition department also donated 200 vouchers that could be redeemed by families for meals in hospital cafeterias.
The cards, vouchers and information packets were then distributed to Mercy employees on an as-needed basis. In many cases, managers notified the EAP about employees who needed the help.
"We anticipated that some people might be too embarrassed to come forward ... so we turned to the managers, because they're the ones who know if someone's losing their house or can't afford to feed their family," Tignor says. Many of the needy employees had decent-paying jobs, but ran into trouble after their spouses lost their jobs or had to care for relatives hit hard by the recession.
A total of 1,200 people were helped by the campaign.
Mercy Hospitals, Toledo, Ohio
Read all of the 2010 HR Problem Solvers.