Healthcare employers cooperate where possible while competing for workers
Hospitals, senior care institutions, community health centers, and other employers are racing to recruit candidates to fill thousands of vacant positions in medical institutions in northeastern Ohio, as job burnout, career changes, and geographic relocation will all lead to increased vacancies.
According to the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationwide, since February 2020, the number of employees in the healthcare industry has dropped by 460,000.
In January, there were approximately 1,500 job vacancies in university hospitals—a typical number in a health system. But by the end of October, that number had doubled to about 3,000, said Kim Shelnick, UH’s vice president of talent acquisition. This figure does not include Lake Health, which officially became a member of UH in April 2021. Lake Health currently has about 400 vacancies, which are also far above normal.
“It has been steadily increasing every week of the year,” she said. “We are working hard to fill vacancies… but the number is still increasing.”
Schernick said that UH has been working with the Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth as much as possible, but they are hiring candidates for each other because there are simply not enough staff and new graduates to fill all vacant positions.
“It’s unbelievable—my colleagues say the same—this is an incredible number of vacancies,” Schernick said. “We must be very creative now to solve this problem.”
Ohio Hospital Association spokesperson John Palmer (John Palmer) said that a large number of job vacancies across the state involve clinical and administrative positions, and the competitive environment requires creativity. He said that in addition to reassessing benefits, more hospitals are reviewing signing bonuses and things that employees may need for their work, such as childcare.
He said that the current pipeline of medical staff is not enough.
“This is not an Ohio problem-we have states and neighboring states competing in the region,” he said.
Not only hospitals, but also nursing homes and community health centers in every state across the country are looking for medical staff.
Based on the staffing challenge, Summa Health began reducing its inpatient bed capacity by 22% in late September and announced a series of other steps to keep its inpatient hospital capacity in line with the currently available staffing levels. In early November, Dr. David Custodio, president of Summa’s Akron campus and St. Thomas campus, stated in a statement that the system is making progress towards the goal of reducing the number of beds.
The McGregor Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides residential and community care for the elderly. About 500 of its 600 positions have been filled. McGregor CEO Ann Conn said that job vacancies range from administrative bills to social work, to housekeeping services, to nursing and doctors. She said that the pandemic that was originally expected to be a sprint is now clearly a marathon.
“Obviously, the first component is around the health and safety of our residents and our employees. As we learn more about this disease and we are able to make adjustments, it is now becoming more of a source of resources To support the elderly we care about, staffing is currently the biggest resource,” she said.
Palmer said that because everyone in the healthcare industry is competing for employees, it will depend on each organization, its mission, the work environment-and how these help attract employees.
Over the years, all clinical fields and professions have faced anticipated and existing shortages, and employers have implemented workforce development plans.
McGregor offers training programs, including paid apprenticeships and introductions to high school students about clinical nursing initiatives.
Hospitals in the area cooperate with educational institutions at all levels to increase access to students and eventually graduates. For example, UH is beginning to see graduates of a project it launched in cooperation with Cleveland State University. UH Nursing Scholars received $12,000 from UH, depending on a two-year work commitment to the system.
Shelnick said that the number one reason employees leave UH is to go to competitors. The second leading reason for nurses to leave is to move outside the area-this reason was cited by 151 registered nurses during the rolling 12-month period.
Because the shortage is “very severe,” Schernik said they have worked with clinics, subways and NEO teams to try to find relocation statistics.
“We must come up with innovative solutions to produce more products and retain more products in northeastern Ohio,” Schernick said.
The expansion of the pipeline plan is still important, but will not immediately fill the critical gap that hospitals are trying to fill.
Schernik said that after accepting the job offer, people either did not show up or called at the last minute to say they had found another job. In the past two months alone, this has happened 70 times.
Healthcare employers are also balancing the use of existing employees to complete shifts and maintain patient safety and quality, while avoiding overwork, because burnout is still a major problem and a factor in some turnover.
UH’s Helping Hands program-through which employees can voluntarily work in shifts to help the clinical field-is a way to reduce some of the workload. Since September, 920 employees from 392 non-clinical departments have helped fill 6,188 shifts in the clinical field. They perform tasks such as running laboratory samples so that clinical staff can stay at the bedside. Also through this program, 225 registered nurses in non-bedside roles have been trained to provide assistance in the clinical field, with 770 shifts since September.
UH offers signing bonuses of up to $8,000. Although it has previously offered signing bonuses at this level, it offers a number of US$8,000 more frequently than the typical range of US$3,000 to US$6,000 in some regions.
McGregor has raised wages and provided signing bonuses in some areas, but Conn said that because non-profit organizations’ reimbursement rates cannot keep up with expenses, it is difficult to compete with resources in other industries.
Therefore, it found other ways to try to introduce more candidates.
Last year, McGregor realized the need for more employees and started recruiting international nurses, a long-term practising hospital, and Conn hoped to see others in the area begin to implement it. Since the immigration process takes time, the five international nurses in preparation have about one year before they start to work.
Also at the end of last year, McGregor worked with a group of non-profit aging service providers near Cleveland to pilot a non-traditional advertising recruitment program from November last year to the first half of this year. Together, they tried to introduce people who might be displaced during the pandemic to occupations that might take up old age. For example, Conn said, medical workers may be looking for a more mission-based organization that does not see old age as a career choice.
“While I think we did see some success, some other forces in the community – around the extension of unemployment, child tax credits, and some other safety net systems – are headwinds that we have not experienced. We hope to succeed, but This may be something we will come back to in the future,” she said.
This effort established partnerships with other organizations that worked independently before, instead of simply trying to compete for a limited number of employees, Conn said they chose to join forces to try to expand the overall candidate pool.
Schernik said that cooperation between partners who compete for talent in the labor market will be crucial. This is the first time in her 15 years of tenure that the health system has collaborated so closely on workforce planning, but hospitals, schools, workforce ecosystems, and communities must work together to solve bigger problems.
“These are some pretty big strategies that can be manipulated in some way,” she said. “How will we stop people from moving away? How will we get more people interested in healthcare?”
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crane’s Cleveland business.