Written by Katie McCall

40 miles west of Abilene, Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital resides in Sweetwater, Texas. In a town with just over 10,000 residents, the hospital has been one of the largest employers in the area since 1976 – employing nearly 300 physicians, nurses, administrators and frontline staff.

Donna Boatright

Unfortunately, compared to their urban counterparts, many rural hospital employees across the state have much less frequent access to retirement planning education and personalized financial consultations. “Our biggest disadvantage? Lack of access to financial advisors,” said Donna Boatright, CEO of Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital. “As a result, our workforce is less sophisticated in terms of understanding and managing investments.”

After discovering her employees were struggling to receive information from the previous plan’s administrator, Boatright was dissatisfied by the stark inaccessibility. It was time to make a change.

Advocating for Rural Hospital Employees

The THA Retirement Plan is the only Texas retirement plan designed and administered for hospitals, by hospitals. THA is bridging the gap, designing robust plans for small, Texas-based, independent hospitals and systems.

Lea Anne Porter

Lea Anne Porter brings 25 years of in-depth retirement plan knowledge for hospitals to her role as vice president of THA’s retirement plans. She has observed the rural disadvantage firsthand, attributing distance as the main deterrent for many brokers. “Rural hospitals often do not have the same access to retirement plan information and financial advising as the urban regions,” said Porter. “There are not as many brokers willing to drive out to less dense parts of the state.”

But the THA Retirement Plan provides more than opportunities for every hospital in Texas to receive investment guidance from an expert. THA offers a variety of plans, including traditional and money purchase pension plans, profit sharing, 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) and the team works with hospitals to build a custom plan that specifically addresses each hospital’s needs.

Porter noted that the THA Retirement Plan provides the exact same service that the biggest players in the market do, including personal oversight and lower fees. By offering small plans with similar investment options as Fortune 500 companies, THARP reduces fees to employee participants and, as a result, more dollars remain in their retirement accounts.

Making A Change

After a fellow hospital CEO sang praises about the program, Boatright contacted Porter to compare RPMH’s existing plan against THARP’s suggestions. For Porter, the process starts with a conversation with the hospital leaders. By first understanding each hospital’s pain points and desires, THARP can suggest a plan tailored to meet the identified goals and solve specific problems. Regularly, the discussion reveals issues that were not previously on the hospital’s radar.

“Many times, hospital fees are really high, and sometimes administrators don’t know how much the hospital or employees are paying,” said Porter. On average, competitor plans charge hospitals around 1.44 percent in administrative fees, compared to THA’s 0.74 percent, resulting in a higher balance of tens to thousands of dollars more for the average participant over a 20-year time period with THA.

After discovering RPMH was paying higher fees than what THARP offered, the decision to switch was a no-brainer, explained Boatright.

Over the course of her career, Porter has observed many hospitals and systems are overcharged for retirement plans, especially in rural communities. She wants employees and employers to be aware of and stop paying unnecessary fees while preparing for their futures.

“I am passionate about employees being able to retire when they want to retire and enjoy it, instead of continuing to work when they don’t feel well or have other responsibilities. This is their money and every dime that goes out for a fee needs to be justified,” said Porter.

In addition to eliminating unnecessary fees, THARP provides concierge-level service to each hospital; assuming plan administration, creating customized plans to meet compliance requirements and reducing much of the CEO and board’s fiduciary responsibility. Porter said, “Many CEOs don’t realize they can be personally liable for noncompliance. When the hospital is sued, the Board and the CEO may also be sued.”

“In our previous plan, we bore the fiduciary responsibility, but with the THA Retirement Plan – that burden is transferred over. From a corporate compliance and safety perspective, it’s certainly helpful,” said Boatright.

A Customized Experience

For Boatright, plan customization was a major deciding factor. In an effort to jumpstart employee participation with the new THARP policy, Porter worked with Boatright to create a customized, flexible plan that waives employee fees for at least the first year and a half while the hospital seeks to reach 100 percent participation.

TJ Wilson

TJ Wilson, human resources administrator at Rolling Plains Memorial, reported the hospital is well on its way to meeting its goal. RPMH is currently tracking at 86 percent participation and counting since making the switch to the THARP less than two years ago. “Out of 300 employees, only 30 people have not yet elected to participate,” Wilson said.

An employee participation rate as high as Rolling Plains’ 79 percent ranks as the gold standard. Many hospitals have low participation rates because people do not fully understand the importance of saving for retirement, especially at a young age. But RPMH has an exceptional participation rate of 52 percent of its employees who fall in the 25-30 age bracket. “I think that RPMH has a great attitude and they look out for one another,” said Porter.

Hospital Culture Influences Participation Rates

Boatright credits Wilson as a dynamic advocate for the program, encouraging his fellow employees to invest in their futures.

From Wilson’s point of view, he sees RPMH’s “employee first” hospital culture as a significant contributing factor. “My goal is to have a personal relationship with every single employee and understand where they’re coming from. If our employees feel like they’re being taken care of in the workplace, they won’t want to go anywhere else.”

As the on-site RPMH retirement plan administrator, Wilson enjoys sitting down with people individually to talk about the plan and help them understand the benefits. “I want every employee to be able to use the tools we provide to make a better life for themselves,” said Wilson. “If employees choose not to contribute to the plan, they are giving up 4 percent pay and leaving money on the table.”

In terms of employee feedback, Wilson regularly hears positive reviews about the plan’s accessibility. With the previous plan, employees had to work with a plan administrator liaison to make any changes. But with THARP, “employees have access to everything on the THA Retirement Plan. Participants are thrilled to be able to log in and make decisions without me, or another administrator, looking over their shoulder,” said Wilson.

The THA Retirement Plan has also had a positive influence on RPMH’s turnover and retention rates. According to Wilson, at least two employees have reported plans to leave the hospital for a different opportunity, but have decided to wait until the three-year vesting period expires.

“It’s really important for hospitals to support the THA Retirement Plan. It is designed for hospitals and by hospitals. We have representation from other rural hospital administrators on the board [of THARP] and I think it’s really positive for us to look out for each other and make sure we have as strong of a program as we possibly can,” said Boatright.

Eliminating Limiting Factors

Best of all, thanks to the plethora of management options offered online by the THA Retirement Plan, distance no longer has to be a limiting factor for rural hospitals. “There’s so much we can do remotely. Our employees don’t have to actually sit at a table face-to-face with a financial advisor,” Boatright said.

As word starts to spread about the benefits of THARP’s personal approach and savings opportunities, Porter continues to add more hospitals to the THA Plan – with five hospitals joining in 2018 and three more to come by July 2019.

This sponsored section is underwritten by HealthShare. THA Retirement Plan has been endorsed by the Texas Hospital Association since 1990. For more information, go to www.healthshare-tha.com/THARP.