Hospital staffing: Talent attraction and retention strategies

In 2017, Reuters reported that hospitals were paying billions to recruit and retain nurses, offering signing bonuses and higher salaries and even repaying student loans and hiring travel nurses to combat the nationwide nursing shortage. Today, the staffing situation looks largely the same as organizations continue to explore ways to address this crisis. 

At a workshop sponsored by JPMorgan Chase at the Becker's 10th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable, Mike Manna, Executive Director, Healthcare Industry Solutions at JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking, facilitated a discussion with three industry leaders about how to solve healthcare talent challenges:

  • Naomi Dolohanty, System Vice President, Talent Acquisition, Advocate Aurora Health in Downers Grove, Ill. 
  • Brad Garfield, Managing Director, Head of Healthcare Solutions, JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking
  • Omar Lateef, DO, President and CEO, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Ill.

Four key takeaways: 

  1. Several factors have contributed to current labor shortages. 10 years ago, the American College of Nursing predicted a shortage of nursing until 2030. In the interim, shifts happened that no one predicted a decade ago. "The population grew more than expected…Immigration slowed down and the pandemic resulted in early exit from healthcare by critical staff resulting in dramatic staffing shortages’ according to Dr. Lateef.

  2. Solutions will be longitudinal and long-term. Healthcare organizations must think differently when hiring talent. "Our recruitment departments are set up to knock people out of the running. Looking ahead, we need to focus on opting more people in," Ms. Dolohanty said.

    Once employees are on board, hospitals and health systems must retain them in a challenging environment. "People are tired and need to heal," Dr. Lateef said. "To build resiliency, we need to tell the truth. We need to tell employees that we're in this together and we'll come out of it together. With that kind of transparency, you will build resilience and improve engagement." Offering greater flexibility can make healthcare a more attractive work environment. "Could we give people relief, such as training inpatient nurses to work in care management from home one day a week?" Ms. Dolohanty asked.

  1. Healthcare labor shortages extend beyond nursing to other licensed employees. Last year, in a poll by the College of American Healthcare Executives, 94 percent of respondents said nursing shortages were a primary concern. But 84 percent said that shortages of other licensed staff, like lab techs and facilities employees, were also a concern.

    To address this problem, Advocate Aurora Health increased pay to a minimum of $18 per hour. "We immediately doubled our recruitment and were able to reach into other industries to fill entry-level jobs. Now it's a matter of retaining them. We are developing programs in partnerships with JPMorgan, as well as external partnerships to send employees back to school for MA and surgical tech programs," Ms. Dolohanty said. 

  1. Some healthcare jobs may shift to a gig economy; enabling technologies could smooth that transition. As the hospital-at-home movement gains traction, more home health workers will be needed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a shortfall of 710,000 home healthcare workers between now and 2030. In lower-wage roles within home healthcare, many people want a gig employment model, where individuals set their own hours. The downside, however, is unpredictable income.

    Earned wage access could eliminate some of that unpredictability. "Instead of waiting for a two-week pay cycle to get paid, workers can cash out their earned hourly wages two to three times during the pay cycle and accelerate their payment," Mr. Garfield said. "Implementation of these types of payment rails in healthcare is similar to other areas of the gig economy, like Uber. We've heard examples of earned-wage access in the industry with interesting results—some clients saw a reduction in employee attrition of up to 20 percent." Examples of other promising technology solutions include real-time, online bidding for shifts.

Health system leaders must be proactive in addressing today's staffing challenges, as Mr. Manna outlined. “All of us have the opportunity to be part of changing what the future of healthcare will look like."

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