To meet the needs of our patients during one of the worst workforce shortages in history, America's community hospitals must focus on becoming an employer of choice and attracting staff based on strength of mission, the ability for employees to be healers, the commitment to build a culture of respect and by providing opportunities for growth.
Hospitals across the country are struggling to staff up and fill shifts amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—which has driven the early retirement and departure of many valued healthcare workers—at a time when workforce shortages are affecting every industry and disrupting our way of life.
The narrow or non-existent margins at many community hospitals means they can never fully compete on salary and benefits with large, resource-rich corporations like Amazon or Walmart.
Community hospitals will also lose staff to academic medical centers in this constrained environment because these organizations can generally pay more and perhaps offer a greater variety of professional experiences.
Community hospitals have always aspired to be employers of choice, but now they must implement a plan to make it happen. Here are four areas on which to focus:
Hospital leaders must make a point of actively engaging with all employees—not just the physicians, who are indeed crucial to the operations and reputation of a hospital—but staff members at every level. My senior leadership team regularly rounds at the hospital so that we can meet with the nurses, nursing assistants, techs, dietary, facilities and housekeeping employees who are the backbone of our organization.
When we conduct rounds, we ask about employee challenges and frustrations and we learn so much. It also gives us the chance to demonstrate to our people that they don't have to worry alone.
We want them to share concerns so that we can address them. Some issues can be easily solved by reallocating resources or ordering new equipment. Others take more time and attention. The key thing is to let people know they are being heard. I believe it is one of the reasons we have such a high staff retention rate.
We have learned that it is critical to show employees that there are pathways for growth available to them. With our nursing staff, for instance, we place a great emphasis on nurse educators so that our nurses can continually develop new skills.
In addition to skill building, we are now developing on-site degree programs that will enable nurses to pursue an advanced degree right on our campus. We have learned that convenience and flexibility are highly sought-after attributes of a job, and the convenience of going from the hospital unit to the classroom without getting in a car or on a bus will make staying in a position a much more attractive choice.
It is also important to create an environment that builds the esteem of the workforce and attracts others to us. That is why we work hard to ensure that we are never standing still. By pursuing top ratings from Leapfrog, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and others, we show our team that we are committed to creating a best-in-class hospital.
Recognition is nice for our ego and for our public relations, but the greatest value comes in seeing staff recognize that they work at a great hospital and we are attracting interest from candidates who have always excelled in their careers and want to work for a top-rated organization.
Equity must be at the core of any hospital that seeks to be an employer of choice. Equitable health outcomes regardless of race is paramount. All hospitals should strive to be better in this regard because the racial disparities in healthcare are enormous. The pandemic has exposed that even more.
Secondarily, we seek for our employees to have an equitable work-life balance. We recognize that down time is just as important as work time. In the surges of the pandemic we came up with ways to give people as much family time as possible. For those who had to work longer hours, we made sure they were fed and had the supplies and equipment to safely do their job.
We created a food pantry for staff so that they would not have to stop at the market after a 12-hour shift. We provided fresh scrubs and a changing area so that they could leave contaminated clothes at the hospital for cleaning. We even added massage chairs to provide some therapeutic rest for employees who were dealing with long, difficult shifts.
With an emphasis on listening to your people, giving them the tools and confidence to grow, and allowing them to create balance in their lives, community hospitals can position themselves to win in the pitched battle to retain and recruit personnel.