I was finishing up some paperwork the other evening before heading out for a relaxing weekend of hiking, picnicking, and enjoying this too-short season we call summer. As I looked out my window at the lush green landscape and the rolling hills beyond – something I do a hundred times a day – I thought for what must have been the millionth time how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful state, and to work at such an amazing hospital. Who wouldn’t want to live and work in a place like this? And by the way, that’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a question that haunts me every day.
We have a lot of job openings here at Copley. If you have a skill, we very likely have an opening for you. We’re looking for doctors, nurses, lab technicians, therapists, groundskeepers…you name it. And while we may be a small, rural hospital, our compensation and benefits package is fairly generous. So why is it taking us so long to fill so many of these positions? The answer comes down to a single word: Housing.
Based solely on the number of inquiries we receive, we know there are plenty of doctors and nurses who would love to move to Vermont and work in this beautiful environment. We also know there are plenty of young people who were raised here, who want to remain here, and who would love to put down roots and start a career here. But they can’t find housing. There simply aren’t enough houses or condos or apartments available for purchase or rent to meet the demand. And it’s not just us.
In a recent issue of VT Digger, the executive vice president for operations at The University of Vermont Health Network noted they have the same problem. Doctors, nurses, and other medical providers say they are ready to accept a job offer, but when they realize there are no housing options they have to turn the offer down. Just recently we hired a nurse who moved here with her whole family. After several months of looking for, and not finding, an appropriate place to buy or rent, they packed up and went back to where they came from.
Despite their desire to live and work in Vermont, we continue to see high-quality healthcare providers decline our job offers, and move instead to places where housing is both affordable and plentiful. And it is happening more and more.
Part of the problem is the nature of where we live. According to a real estate study done in 2019, Vermont has the second-highest percentage of second homes in the nation. In nearby Stowe, nearly 70 percent of properties are taxed at a non-homestead rate, meaning the owner doesn’t use the property as a primary residence. (Source: VT Community Newspaper Group, November 2020). In Greensboro, that number jumps to 81 percent. That’s a lot of homes sitting empty for a good portion of the year.
Then there’s the recent pandemic, which drove the price of what little housing stock there was on the market up by as much as 40 percent. So now the problem becomes twofold: There is very little inventory for sale or rent in our area, and what there is for sale or rent is now priced out of reach, especially for young people and first-time homebuyers. And so, like many other employers here in the Green Mountain State – schools, restaurants, and municipalities come immediately to mind – here we are, a first-class hospital located in one of the healthiest, safest, and most beautiful places in the country; with openings in nearly all areas of the organization; and no way to fill them.
Who ever thought an employment package might one day have to include housing or a significant housing allowance – especially here in Vermont? But for many employers, it may be time to start looking in that direction. In the meantime, we’ll continue to find creative ways to fill our ranks – from partnerships with local colleges to in-house training programs – in order to meet the needs of the communities we serve.