Mario Ellis didn’t start his career in healthcare, and he’s leveraging that fact to be an effective HR leader in the industry. Although he entered college to study computer engineering, counselors convinced him to make the transition to information systems. Upon graduation, Ellis worked in various fields as a consultant. He even earned a master’s degree in theology.
Today’s healthcare leaders need to think differently, and Ellis is drawing upon his unique blend of experiences to develop the effective benefits programs and recruiting strategies that give WellSpan Health success in the new normal.
In some settings, friends and congregants know him as “reverend.” Over the years, Ellis has served in various roles at numerous churches. He’s been a minister of music, a church administrator, a Sunday school teacher, and an outreach pastor. In 2010, he founded Refreshing Springs Congregational Church in the greater Chicago area, which is still in existence today.
Ellis sees a link between his degree in practical theology—which focuses on the link between spirituality, vocation, and everyday life—and his current work at WellSpan. “HR leadership in today’s world requires a holistic view because we are thinking about health equity, value-based care, and good stewardship,” he says. “We also want to ensure we take care of the whole person and value inclusion as we create benefits plans for our employees.”
Ellis’s winding career path has taken him through many cities and industries. His time as a consultant brought him from Chicago to Nashville and back again. During that era, he developed expertise in project management, recruiting, sales and marketing, systems implementation, compensation, employee relations, and union negotiations. “I’ve had many jobs in various locations, but that has helped me learn broad skills, and my career path has given me an understanding of how markets, demographics, and corporate culture all factor into the HR conversation,” he says.
Ellis transitioned to healthcare in 2004 and worked in leadership roles at the University of Chicago Medical Center, St. Luke’s Health System, and the Cleveland Clinic before arriving at WellSpan Health in 2019 to design, grow, and implement system-wide total rewards benefits and compensation strategies. WellSpan is an integrated health system that serves the communities of central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland; it includes a regional behavioral health organization, a home care organization, eight hospitals, and more than two hundred patient care locations.
When Ellis arrived on-site, the organization already had a solid foundation, but WellSpan’s new leadership team wanted to take things to a new level. “WellSpan wants to grow into a market leader, and we knew a well-structured total rewards program would help us attract, retain, and develop the talent that can help us realize that goal,” says Ellis, adding that he moved to create, brand, and launch a total rewards platform tailored perfectly to WellSpan’s goals and culture.
As the vice president of WellSpan Health Total Rewards, Ellis is known for challenging the status quo and thinking outside of the box, which he says is key to success for any healthcare HR leader. “Healthcare is one of the most dynamic fields—it is always changing,” he explains. “We’ll never emerge as leaders if we always rely on the same old way of doing things.” For Ellis, HR leaders are more than administrators; they are change agents who can unite the right people to deliver the right results at the right time.
After examining the organization, the market, the patients, the structure, and the system, Ellis solicited feedback from employees and leaders. He then started working with WellSpan’s culture counsel to understand the makeup and needs of the organization. Finally, he engaged with other industry leaders to better understand competitiveness in the region and nationally. With that information in hand, Ellis and his team built the total rewards program, a robust package of benefit and compensation program created to support all WellSpan employees.
Its perks and incentives include standardized incentive programs, a choice of voluntary programs suitable for individual and family needs, and paid time off as well as more unique features like PTO bridging, through which eligible employees enter WellSpan’s PTO program with the ability to accrue at higher rates based on their previous years of service. As the vice president of Total Rewards, Ellis says he and his colleagues often consider diversity and flexibility in plan design.
“Our system has thousands of employees who are in different stages of life and have different needs. We wanted a total rewards program that works well for everyone and provides increased choice,” he explains. Employees select the benefits they want or need, and they can take advantage of optional features like educational assistance, loan forgiveness, flexible spending accounts, childcare assistance, and discounted wellness or recreational programs.
Ellis demonstrated his ability to lead through adversity when the COVID-19 pandemic hit WellSpan’s market. He and his team used existing software and communications systems to field a high volume of employee requests related to childcare assistance, time off, and other emerging needs. WellSpan provided dependent care stipends, mental health services, and financial bonuses to qualified employees affected by the pandemic. HR also reviewed and updated PTO policies and other guiding documents.
Additionally, the organization raised its minimum wage, invested in its family assistance fund, and engaged a vendor, DailyPay, that allows employees faster access to their salary based on hours worked. Ellis expects many of these popular features to remain in place after the pandemic recedes.
Today, many of WellSpan’s team members are still working remotely, but Ellis thrives when he’s in the office with other employees. He also enjoys walking around WellSpan’s facilities when possible and seeing doctors, nurses, and patients. As he watches those interactions, he’s filled with pride, knowing that his team has worked to help WellSpan continue its mission of improving health through exceptional care for all.
Gallagher is proud to be a strategic partner of WellSpan Health. We support the mission of working together as one, to improve health. Our strategic partnership has allowed us to share our values and assist in “Finding a Better Way.” Congratulations to Mario Ellis for his continued leadership and innovative thinking.