Health systems are doubling down on their efforts to keep current employees while attracting an increasing number of new staff as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Many have dealt with burned out workers quitting, retiring or taking higher-paying traveling jobs over the past two and a half years. The deluge has spurred some systems to revamp their hiring methods, boost wages and benefits and provide other offerings to attract needed staff.
Registered nursing positions have been some of the toughest for hospitals to fill throughout the pandemic. More recently though, hospitals are struggling to find enough nursing assistants, food service and environmental workers, and other more entry-level staff.
“We’re not just competing among healthcare organizations anymore, which used to be the case, but now we’re really competing with the broader labor market, with hotels and restaurants and other industries,” Janet Tomcavage, chief nursing officer at Geisinger, said.
The nonprofit, 10-hospital system based in Pennsylvania has seen staff in housekeeping services, environmental and food services, and some nursing assistants leave for jobs at Walmart, Target and Starbucks, to name a few, “who are aggressively changing their workforce approaches as well,” Tomcavage said.
Persistent shortages of other clinical staff remain with nurses, respiratory therapists and ultrasound laboratory technicians. That’s leading to a gap in experience, as the tenure of nurses, particularly on the inpatient side, has dropped, she said.
“It's not just the person. It's the wealth of knowledge and experience that you lose,” she said.
Consequently, retaining current staff by making them feel engaged and valued is now a key part of Geisingers’ efforts to strengthen its workforce.
“One of the first categories that we paid attention to was compensation and making sure that we really are rewarding nurses for the work that they do,” she said. The system offered retention bonuses to entice staff to stay.
Another key tool is conducting stay interviews rather than exit interviews, where nurses and managers can discuss why nurses want to stay in their roles and what additional supports may be needed for them to continue doing that work.
“What annoys you at work? What are the things that are frustrating? Are these things likely to have you look elsewhere?” are some important questions to ask in stay interviews, Carey Goryl, CEO of the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment, said.
Managers can use those responses and work to find solutions to commonly cited concerns, Goryl said.
Recruiting new staff is another challenge systems across the country face. At Kaiser Permanente's 21 hospitals in Northern California, hiring demand increased through the pandemic and has remained elevated since, Ryan Fuller, regional director of workforce strategy for patient care services, said.
“It's not something that a system can ever stop working on,” Fuller said.
A major part of Kaiser’s current hiring efforts revolves around making the interviewing process faster and simpler for both candidates and managers, Fuller said.
Kaiser recently revamped its processes, incorporating more technology and the ability for candidates to pre-record answers to interview questions for busy managers to review on-demand.
It also changed its application process by asking applicants to submit one application to a facility they’d like to work at — rather than having them apply for each role individually. Kaiser then works to find which open positions at that facility would be a good fit.
Those changes ultimately reduced the time it takes on average to bring new nurses into the system by 30%, Fuller said.
“It’s not just about finding candidates, but then when people want to come work for your system, how do you make sure that it’s the best process you can have?”
Hiring slowdowns typically happen at the decision-making level when too many voices are involved, AAPPR’s Goryl said.
“Candidates have many job offers and smart healthcare organizations know that they need to move quickly,” she said.
Washington-based Providence has stood up mass virtual hiring events in an effort to recruit more full-time nurses to work for the system. It is one of the largest nonprofit hospital operators in the country with 51 hospitals, more than 900 outpatient sites across seven states and an affiliated health plan.
Nursing makes up the largest percentage of the systems’ workforce, and it currently employs over 36,000 nurses. Providence currently has about 3,000 open nursing positions, which include roles for registered nurses, licensed practical and vocational nurses and certified nursing assistants, across all levels of experience, according to the system.
“Hosting events virtually was a natural shift for us as our traditional hiring process also has become primarily virtual,” Carol Kubeldis, Providence’s vice president of talent acquisition, said.
The system does both virtual and in-person recruiting events, with some focused on more regional hiring and filling a handful of roles, and others attempting to fill hundreds of roles across the system. Virtual hiring events can also help streamline the interview process, she said.
Providence is also working to entice staff who left during the pandemic to come back and work for the system again.
“We have very purposeful engagement with former caregivers and have a team in charge of that in regards to reaching out to them,” she said.