The labor shortage at Michigan hospitals is stabilizing but still in critical condition as thousands of positions remain open.
The number of openings at Grand Blanc-based McLaren Health Care is down 15 percent in the past few months, Kimberly Keaton Williams, vice president of talent acquisition and chief diversity officer, told Crain's in an email.
Rising inflation and a fumbling market have added slack to an otherwise robust labor market in the state in the last 18 months. Hospitals faced a mass exodus of nursing staff only to have to turn around and hire them again but at as much as three times the wage through a nursing agency. Shortages were amplified by COVID-19 surges overwhelming limited staff and causing shutdowns of services.
Beaumont Health still has a reduction in services due to staffing woes, Mark Geary, senior director of communications for Beaumont, said in a statement to Crain's.
"Labor shortages have forced us to reduce services in some areas, but we are reopening as much as we can as quickly as possible as we hire more staff," Geary said.
Trinity Health Michigan, which operates eight hospitals in the state and 22 senior living communities, still has 2,500 full-time and part-time openings. It's managed to avoid a reduction of services though, Bobby Maldonado, a spokesperson for Trinity, said.
"Our leadership team has been meeting regularly and monitoring staffing levels closely so that we can flex to meet the needs of our patients," Maldonado said.
Fact is, healthcare is recovering slower than most other industries impacted harshly by the pandemic, jobs figures show.
Overall, the state has added 172,000 new jobs since last April, led by recovering hospitality and manufacturing industries, according to data released Wednesday by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. Those industries have added 50,000 and 33,000 jobs, respectively, in the state over the last 12 months.
Healthcare and education, however, have only added 3,000 jobs over the same time frame despite being the largest industry sector in the state. As of February, the most recent data available, there were 40,000 open positions, according to a survey by the hospital lobbying and advocacy group Michigan Health & Hospital Association.
Hospitals are struggling to keep up with rising wages seen across the board, Brian Peters, CEO of the association, told Michigan Radio earlier this week.
"We are losing employees to McDonald's for a job that pays better and is less stressful," Peters told Michigan Radio. "And we are incredibly limited in our ability to compete with rising wages in other industries ... because Medicare tells us what they're going to pay, as does Medicaid, all the private insurance companies."
The representatives from Beaumont, Trinity and McLaren said the organizations have raised wages but that competition remains fierce for workers.
Trinity also re-engineered its benefits to begin on the first day of employment, waving the previous 30-day eligibility period, and offered new signing bonuses, Maldonado said.
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Roughly 800 new hires have benefited from these revamped incentives, he said.
The health system is also offering retention contracts, providing bonuses for commitment to stay employed at Trinity.
McLaren is building a pool of retired workers to work more flexible hours than the system typically offers, Keaton Williams said in an email.
The system also offers quarterly retention bonus payments and a new tuition repayment program.
"We are seeing some positive trends in our number of applicants and decreases in employee turnover," Keaton Williams said. "Today, we are using significantly less agency staff than we were just two months ago and the bill rates for agency staff have decreased too. We are seeing significantly less demand for travelers across the region."
McLaren and Beaumont are also marketing to foreign workers, offering Visa sponsorships.
While improving, the labor problem could grow if another major COVID-19 surge occurs. The state is currently in the middle of a major spike, but it's unknown how severe the spread could reach.
On Wednesday, the state reported 29,267 new cases of the novel coronavirus over the seven days prior, up more than 679 percent since April 6. However, it's nearly impossible to know how many cases are actually occurring due to the widespread use of home tests. Not everyone who tests positive, especially with mild symptoms, reports their case to local health departments.
Hospitalizations are also on the rise, up 87 percent since April 27 to 965 as of Monday. Hospitalizations jumped 10 percent since Friday, but they are nowhere near the pandemic peak of 4,579 in January.
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Detroit Business.