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Donating Paid Time Off To Colleagues In Need
Durham, NC - Doubled over with abdominal pain, Erin Bartels sat in the emergency room with her husband and 4-year-old daughter, Ada.
Suddenly, she slumped sideways, and her eyes rolled.
"I can't see!" cried Bartels, her words slurred.
Hospital staff rushed Bartels to surgery, the first of three operations in 2010 to find and repair a burst aneurysm pouring blood into her abdomen.
Bartels, associate director of development and alumni communications at the Fuqua School of Business, had saved up 10 weeks of vacation and sick time, but that wasn't enough to see her through a three-month recovery.
Colleagues at Duke stepped in to help, donating 192 hours of their own vacation time for Bartels to use. The Kiel Memorial Vacation/PTO Donation Program allows staff and faculty of Duke University and Duke University Health System to donate vacation or short-term paid time off to colleagues who have suffered catastrophic injury or illness to themselves (or eligible family members) and have exhausted all of their accrued time.
When Bartels' vacation and sick time ran out after 10 weeks of recovery, the donated hours allowed her to receive a full paycheck and benefits until she returned to work a month later. That financial security was crucial for the family because her husband, Matt, temporarily shut down his home inspection business while Bartels was in and out of surgery.
"In the midst of all the mystery about what was going on medically, it was a huge relief not to have to stress out about finances," Bartels said. "Thanks to the generosity of people at Duke, we had the assurance of at least one steady income."
31,218 hours donated in 2011
Duke introduced the vacation donation program in 1999 in honor of Susan Kiel, a Duke nurse who died of cancer in 1996.
Julianne Rogers, Cathy Robinson and Jennifer Kell, three Duke nurses who were Kiel's close friends, proposed the ability to donate vacation time while Kiel was fighting cancer. After Kiel passed away, her colleagues continued to champion the cause.
"We saw Susan's strength and courage in facing death and it kept us pushing for this program," said Rogers, a pediatric nurse at Duke. "It took a long time, but it was a huge affirmation when Duke launched the program and named it after Susan."
Last year, 1,415 staff and faculty donated 31,218 hours to the program - more than 19 months of vacation and paid time off. Because of these donations, 380 employees were able to use hours from the Kiel program to alleviate the loss of income from a prolonged absence from work.
The program has a profound impact on those who donate and receive hours. "We all felt so helpless when Erin got sick," said Erin Gasch, who is Bartels' supervisor at Fuqua. "The Kiel Program was a wonderful way for us to do something tangible so she didn't have to go without pay during her recovery."
To receive Kiel donations, employees must be out of work for more than four weeks and have exhausted all of their vacation, sick or paid time off. This means employees who have more than four weeks of vacation and sick or paid time off accrued cannot tap into the Kiel hours until they have used all of their time off. Employees with fewer than four weeks of time off must first use what they have saved up and may have some period of unpaid absence from work before being eligible for time through Kiel.
Bill Phillips, manager of benefits at Duke, said the Kiel program is a safety net for employees when a catastrophic injury or health problem arises.
"The four-week waiting period before Kiel kicks in was set up to encourage prudent accumulation of vacation and sick or paid time off," Phillips said. "But when people are out for more than four weeks, Kiel can help bridge a gap between accrued time running out and the person returning to work or becoming eligible for disability benefits."
An 'easy way' to help
Melinda Swift, an administrative assistant in Pathology, learned about the donation program when she tried to help a Duke colleague.
In October 2010, Swift called Environmental Services to find out why a new employee had replaced the Pathology Department's regular housekeeper, Qianna Cradle. Swift learned Cradle was on medical leave after emergency surgery to remove a fist-sized infected mass from her right hip.
As Cradle lay in a hospital bed, she confided to Swift that she was worried about finances. Cradle had about two weeks of vacation and sick time accrued, but the surgeons thought she would be unable to return to work for at least eight weeks while the deep incision healed.
Swift immediately set to work investigating how to assist Cradle and discovered information about the Kiel Program on the Duke Human Resources website. She emailed colleagues, told them about Cradle's situation and asked if anyone wanted to donate time.
"It seemed such an easy way for us all to help," Swift said.
Staff in the Pathology Department and Environmental Services donated 96 hours to Cradle during her recovery. Because Cradle had less than four weeks of accrued vacation and sick time, she missed 13 days of pay before using the Kiel program, but the donated hours provided two full paychecks, carrying Cradle through until she returned to work in January 2011.
"It was really good to see that pay come in," said Cradle, who has worked at Duke nine years and has two sons at home. "If I hadn't had the Kiel program, I probably would have had to go to social services for help."
When Erin Bartels returned to work at Fuqua in June 2010, she offered thanks during a staff meeting for her colleagues' help, which also included dinners delivered to her home and offers to help with childcare.
"Their generosity was overwhelming," she said. "I found out I had a lot of friends."
By January of this year, Bartels had accumulated enough vacation time to carry out a promise she and her husband made during the long ordeal: a family trip to Disney World for daughter, Ada.
"The whole experience was a tough ordeal for Ada," Bartels said. "She spent her fifth birthday in the hospital with me, and Matt and I promised each other that when everything settled down, we'd do something really fun for her. Disney World fit the bill."
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