Engage + rehire former workers: Key thoughts from Providence, Keck Medicine

As hospitals and health systems remain focused on recruiting and retaining top talent, they have rolled out various strategies to rehire both clinical and nonclinical workers who left during the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare organizations have embraced flexibility as one approach but are also using personal reachout and mining data to bring workers back.

A study published in April 2021 showed that 21 percent of surveyed workers had at least moderately considered leaving the workforce and 30 percent had considered reducing hours. Now, it appears healthcare employment has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

Still, health system leaders have often acknowledged that they still face workforce challenges. A survey of hospital CEOs published in February found that healthcare staffing was their top concern.   

Greg Till is executive vice president and chief people officer at Providence, a Renton, Wash.-based health system with 52 hospitals across seven states. Mr. Till and Ekta Vyas, PhD, chief human resources officer of Los Angeles-based Keck Medicine of USC, spoke with Becker's March 24 about navigating the war for talent, particularly their organizations' strategies for rehiring workers.

When a personal touch matters

Providence's strategy for re-recruiting former Providence caregivers is multifaceted, according to Mr. Till.

It includes sending mailers to former workers twice annually to invite them to reapply, he said. Personal reachout also occurs for positions that are more difficult to fill. 

"We ask them how it's going, ask them if they would consider coming back to the organization, and do a personal touch," Mr. Till explained. 

Providence also launched a specific microsite for former workers who may want to return.

Providence, which employs about 120,000 people, lost nearly 25,000 caregivers in 2021 during the "Great Resignation." 

"That's pretty significant. Frankly, it's the highest level of attrition we've experienced collectively as a system since we've been measuring it," said Mr. Till.

The health system saw the highest attrition among acute care registered nurses. However, it also saw high attrition among lower-paying jobs such as certified nursing assistants, medical assistants, environmental services workers, technicians and food service attendants. 

"We became competitors with the food service industry, retail industry and other industries that maybe weren't as competitive from a compensation perspective, a benefits perspective or an experience perspective prior to the pandemic," Mr. Till said. "But as we saw inflation increase pretty dramatically over the past 18 months, those players were able to pass costs immediately onto their consumers in a way that allowed them to start raising wages faster than we were able to. We've now caught up to where we need to be from a market perspective, which has really helped in those spaces."

Collectively in 2022, Providence rehired about 1,900 caregivers. Thirty-four percent of those rehires were nurses. 

Mr. Till attributed the rehires to Providence's culture as well as the pay and benefits it offers. He said nearly all positions at Providence pay well above minimum wage in every location.

He also said families who don't make more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level receive free or reduced cost benefits, premiums. 

"In addition to the incredible culture we have and the important mission we serve, many realized the generous benefits we offer are more difficult to find in other organizations," said Mr. Till. 

This year, Providence aims to rehire 3,800 workers who left the organization during the pandemic.

Studying what works, and what doesn't

Keck Medicine of USC's approach to rehiring workers includes refreshing and adjusting sourcing strategies as needed, according to Dr. Vyas. For example, examining the number of direct hires the health system gets directly from its website vs. through social media channels. 

Dr. Vyas said the organization also focuses on leveraging its exit interview data now more than in previous years. The latest data showed that 57 percent of respondents reported a clear "yes" that they would want to return. 

"Then if they are wanting to return or even if they're not wanting to return, we ask them the reasons," explained Dr. Vyas.

It's all part of the health system's full talent acquisition strategy transformation. The transformation also now includes tracking employee sentiment when workers first join the organization. 

Looking at "what's working, what's not working so that we can track the first year turnover. We are closely emphasizing that more than before," Dr. Vyas said.

Overall, Keck Medicine of USC has rehired about 90 non-nursing employees across three of its hospitals over the last six months. This number does not include Methodist Hospital of Southern California in Arcadia, which joined Keck Medicine as USC Arcadia Hospital in July. The health system has about 9,000 employees total.  

The number of nonclinical workers rehired "tells us that people may consider opportunities elsewhere, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're not open to having an employment relationship with you in the future," Dr. Vyas said.

Advice for peers

Overall, Mr. Till said he views rehiring as a fruitful way to bring workers back.

"The environment is a little different now than it was a year and a half ago," he said. "Sometimes, it's good to get different experiences, so caregivers appreciate what different employers can offer. Ultimately, we think we have something special at Providence."

He recommended that his peers consider direct outreach when aiming to rehire. 

"We do mailers, we have special websites, but the highest net opportunity for us is that personal reachout to those folks who've either retired or gone to other industries," said Mr. Till.


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