I am a family medicine physician practicing in Hamilton, Montana. My husband, who is also a physician, and I have owned and operated our independent practice since 2004. We have a staff of 9 people, including 2 Physician Assistants. There are many challenges to operating an independent medical practice in this day and age. The greatest of these, in my opinion is the recruitment and retention of quality staff. We were lucky enough to hire our first Physician Assistant in 2007. When she became pregnant with her first child, we knew that the standard vacation and sick time that we had contractually allotted would not be an appropriate amount of leave time. We made the decision to continue to pay her during her maternity leave. Of course this was a financial challenge, but it struck us as the right thing to do for her and for our practice. This action helped cement her relationship with us and her dedication to remaining in practice in a rural part of Montana. She could certainly have made more money by moving to Seattle or Salt Lake City, but she was motivated by the desire to help those in rural areas.
In Ravalli County, we have many small independently owned businesses that struggle with employee retention. Small businesses have to compete with the deeper pockets of large corporations. Small towns need to compete with the larger cities. Paid family and medical leave gives small businesses a way of offering benefits that, currently, may only be given by large corporations. Building a strong workforce in Montana is the only way for our state to remain productive.
A perfect example of how this will help me, in the future, is in my competition with our local hospital for skilled workers. I cannot match the salaries our local community hospital can offer workers. However, I still have interested prospective employees. Many like working in a small organization, or being in more direct contact with patients or participating on a team where they have more input. But, when it comes to benefits, I struggle to match the hospital. Paid family and medical leave would help me be competitive.
Lastly, as a physician, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of giving people the opportunity to help care for a newborn, minister to a sick relative, or hold the hand of a dying loved one. I am frequently asked to fill out Family Medical Leave forms for patients in these situations. One question that I ask is “How much time do you need”? The answer often has nothing to do with need, and everything to do with afford. Taking this step will help meet those needs, which will allow people to return to work knowing they have done the right thing.