JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Ballad Health announced new incentives in an effort to retain staff members.

The health system said it will open up to 11 new childcare centers for employees’ children and expand two existing childcare centers.

Ballad will also cover 100% of tuition, fees, and books for employees who pursue higher education for an initial degree in nursing, imaging, medical technology, surgical technology, and catheterization lab technology. Tuition reimbursement will be offered to employees who wish to obtain a higher level of professional education, like an RN with an associate degree who would like a bachelor’s degree.

Ballad Health Chairman and CEO Alan Levine said in a press conference Wednesday that has 600 nursing positions open, calling the current staffing situation the worst he’s ever seen.

“It’s hard to find people right now, so a key is, do everything we can to lean in on retention, so we don’t lose more people,” Levine said. “At the same time, we do everything we can to try to fill those positions in the near-term.”

The incentive program could also have benefits for the nursing schools in Ballad’s area. ETSU College of Nursing Dean Leann Horsley said the incentives could bring more students to the area. Much of the College of Nursing graduates work for Ballad post-graduation.

“By increasing nursing students in all of the nursing schools within the area and creating that pipeline toward Ballad, I think that’s going to help Ballad and it’s going to help our community,” Horsley said.

Levine said the expansion of affordable child care was envisioned with employees in mind. He said inability to care for children is one of the primary reasons nurses have left Ballad.

“One wrote me an email saying she was considering actually leaving to go full-time stay at home,” Levine said. “She said this gives me a chance to stay and keep working.”

Horsley said Ballad’s investment in continued education for nurses will lead to improved quality of care.

“It really does impact that care that’s being received,” Horsley said. “It improves patient safety, patient outcomes.”

Levine said the comprehensive approach was necessary at this point in the staffing crisis.

“All of these things are designed together. Not any one of those strategies by themselves would do the trick,” Levine said.

The health system will also give staff the option to cash out their paid time off, allowing them to get up to 40 hours of salary with a payout in May.

Staff members can earn up to a $2,500 bonus for referring experienced RNs who ultimately get hired; $1,500 for experienced LPNs, RTs, surgical technologists, and medical technicians; and $500 for certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists, and certified medical assistants.

In addition to those new benefits, current Ballad employees who worked more than 60 hours per pay period during the Delta and Omicron surges will receive a two-part bonus. Those payments are split between March and July in another effort to keep people on board.