Emory CEO's pivot after 'reactive' workforce shortage approach

Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare has experienced workforce challenges in the last few years, like most health systems did during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All positions in the clinical workforce, from physicians to nurses and technical staff, as well as administrative and operational staff experienced higher turnover rates and shortages. Joon Lee, MD, CEO of Emory Healthcare, said during an interview with "Becker's Healthcare Podcast" that his team changed tactics to address the problem after their initial approach failed to produce results.

"When we first started to realize that this was becoming a critical problem, the approach was way too piecemeal," said Dr. Lee. "We were reactive. We said 'Is it a pay problem? Should we throw more pay at it? Is it that our generation's quitting? Is it that people want to work remotely?'"

To discover the root cause of their workforce issues, Emory's leadership took an aggressive, comprehensive look at the workforce and tried to figure out what was impeding the system from having enough people hired. They also examined employee turnover with a fine-toothed comb.

"We've taken a holistic approach and we've totally revamped the talent acquisition process with new people coming in and looking at the process from the beginning to the end, until the nurse or the staff is actually on the floor and performing their duties," said Dr. Lee. "We've aggressively shortened the process and made it more user-friendly for those who are applying for jobs."

The executive team also examined the pay scale and made adjustments.

"Every organization likes to think they're paying well, but we looked at ourselves in the mirror and said, 'How are we doing compared to what's happening in society outside of nursing and medical care, and health systems, as well as within health systems and in our market'," said Dr. Lee. "We are in the process of aggressively increasing the investment in pay scale."

Finally, Emory is reimagining its benefits package to become more attractive to top talent.

"We realize people are looking at benefits very differently, and there may be generational differences," said Dr. Lee. "We're taking a hard look to see what the benefits package looks like, what flexibility we give for generations that may have a slightly different value. The Baby Boomers clearly have different values than the Millennials. We want to give flexibility and let people choose what would be best for them."

The work is "far from done," said Dr. Lee, but the early results are encouraging. Emory has lowered nurse turnover rate in recent months and is close to the 2019 turnover rate.

"Our aspiration is actually to get better than that, but we will continue at it and it will be an iterative process that will make us better and better," said Dr. Lee.

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