By Belinda Sharr
HR professionals believe health systems are understaffed and under-occupied. That’s according to a recent online study by HRO Today Magazine and healthcare RPO firm Clinical Magnet.
To solve the problem of under-occupation, hospitals and health systems will naturally seek to draw in more customers. Absent strategic workforce planning, that will double-down the problem of under-staffing. HR will thus need to work closely with other departments to ensure the right people are in place as business needs arise.
This is under-staffing/under-occupation is one example of the kinds of long-term strategic workforce issues that occur more and more in the healthcare industry. Recruiting professionals are attacking these problems by recruiting as early as high school, including heavy uses of data and training, and trying some innovative approaches such as marketing storytelling and talent pooling.
Clinical Magnet President Travis Furlow works with clients to plan their healthcare workforces.
“There is an increased talent shortage we’re projecting over the next three to four years,” Furlow says. “There are folks leaving the industry and moving into retirement. We are helping our clients from a talent acquisition perspective. I look at understanding where our teams and clients will need resources. I want to be recruiting appropriately, and utilize the candidate. The talent gap/shortage within clinical healthcare has placed a heavy emphasis on our proactive ‘talent pooling.’ It is a reality that in order to identify and secure top, experienced clinical talent, you need to articulate the benefits of the culture you represent, the value the new opportunity will create for the applicant and we have had success doing this through the sophisticated use of CRM (Candidate Relationship Management) technology. Our ability to proactively connect, engage and communicate with talent prior to their need or desire to look for work, has enabled us to assist clients in working through this talent gap and shortage.”
Furlow notes that there is a cycle of hiring, and he thinks that the early you begin recruiting, the better.
“Where I’m filling pools of talent, we are starting as early as high school and STEM programs to help foster and promote the healthcare industry, very early in the recruiting cycle,” he says. Encouraging students to look at joining the healthcare industry may create more interest and lead to more available workers.
Next, HR professionals should consider the hard data. Data and analytics can tell healthcare HR professionals concrete facts about what they need.
Jeff Decker, division head for Allied Staffing at AMN Healthcare, explains: “Hospitals need to have the proper data to review. We have a more holistic [approach] reporting on where those resources are coming from and we give our clients access to data so they can make proper decisions. We are then backing those decisions up with where they need resources in order to deliver the quality care. When it comes to how they’re handling shortages, they [understand] that the value that comes from having access to information.”
Having the proper and most up-to-date data is also extremely important. Healthcare HR professionals need to ensure they are looking at the proper data when making hiring decisions, and invest in technologies that make this data reliable and easily accessible.
The Affordable Healthcare Act means more Americans have access to healthcare than ever. This brings more people through the doors of healthcare facilities, and this requires more staff to meet the needs of the sick. Decker says that he works with his clients to bridge the gap between what patients need and what the facility can supply.
“We look at the gaps, and what our clients looking for, and we make sure we are adding those service lines,” Decker says. “Best practices are to provide a number of services.”
These services can include both permanent and contingent workers.
“If we find our clients need a specialty, depending on geographic areas, it can be difficult to attract [the right talent],” Decker says. “A search for a specialized physician can go for nine months or longer, so while we’re working on that [search] we can send in contingent workers to make sure needs are fulfi lled. We are focused on both permanent and contingent; clients can count on it whatever the need might be.”
Furlow agrees, and notes the importance of healthcare facilities focusing on both the long and short term to fill the gap. To fill the gap, he recommends a combination of long-term and short-term planning.
“We have some back-to-basics approaches that we are starting to see more organizations take part in,” Furlow says. “Let’s remind ourselves not to forget true succession planning and workforce planning.” He says filling roles across all types of employment can help fill the gap: “Our clients may need solutions across a wide array of talent demand (MSP, Travel Nursing, Allied Health and Physician recruiting).”
However, part of the shortage doesn’t just come from the lack of healthcare workers themselves, Decker says.
“Much stems from the great nursing shortage, but we also found there was a real gap in leadership, in the C-suite,” Decker says. Allied Staffing is working with their clients to fill roles for healthcare executives along with clinicians to ensure that the talent gap is bridged from the top down.
Being proactive in the search for talent is helpful to employers. If the need isn’t there yet, chances are it will be shortly.
Furlow says that working with pools of talent and having an eye on the goal of closing the gap helps his clients fulfill their needs when they have them.
“Our ability to proactively connect, engage and communicate with talent prior to their need or desire to look for work, has enabled us to assist clients in working through this talent gap and shortage,” he says.
Training becomes necessary to ensure the next generation of healthcare workers is prepared to take on the roles experienced workers are leaving behind as they age. AMN Healthcare offers a center for learning and development that helps professionals grow their skills (The Center for the Advancement of Healthcare Professionals).
“You have to get creative and innovative when there’s not enough supply. Our center for learning and development is an education tool,” Decker says. He notes that while they may not be able to place new graduates in positions that require skilled clinicians, “what we can do is partner with a healthcare facility and put new grads through our program to get the training they need, and get up to speed. We also provide fellowships for nurses in a market with a specialty need. So they can advance their career and opportunities – partnership and fellowship are key.”
These types of educational programs require an investment on behalf of the healthcare facility, but they may prove to have a valuable ROI when the facility is able to bring in people who are able to fill the gap.
Furlow says he advises clients on how they need to see that recruiting has become as much a marketing function as an HR function.
“We are seeing our clients receive strong ROI from partnerships involving the use of “storytelling” marketing,” Furlow says. “Strong brand marketing campaigns, videography create an experience for the prospective candidate and then using increased data analytics to drill down into which tools, technology or processes generate the greatest return.”
Wellness as Preventative Care
With the focus on wellness today, some are looking at staffing preventative care to lessen the burden on staffing for acute care.
Furlow says that the investment he sees in the creation of wellness programs has been significant, and one of the ways they see an impact on how these programs impact workforce strategy is tied to the skill sets recruited by their clients.
“Acute care will continue to drive a heavy demand on experienced clinicians and we are now seeing an increase in professionals who also carry ‘wellness’ knowledge. We have clients who are hiring nutritionists, trainers, and life style coaches in heavier volumes than I’ve seen in years. This creates a different sourcing strategy requirement and also leads to the need to ensure the healthcare system or facilities are branding themselves as strong supporters of the preventative care culture.”
Home Health Causing Gap
Hospitals aren’t the only place there is a staff shortage. Other types of healthcare facilities are seeing a decline in available staff for important positions, including retail clinics and home healthcare. The home care need is growing as baby boomers age, taking workers out of traditional healthcare positions.
“Healthcare starts to expand beyond hospital walls,” Decker says. “There are a lot of choices [in jobs] for healthcare workers. It’s difficult for a hospital to attract those. Home healthcare is growing and there are more workers that need to be in that space, which puts additional constraint on the supply.”
Furlow offers a final thought on how to strategize the healthcare workforce to get through this time of a great talent gap and healthcare worker shortage.
“The talent gap/shortage within clinical healthcare has placed a heavy emphasis on our proactive ‘talent pooling’ [having a current pool of talent to work with]. It is a reality that in order to identify and secure top, experienced clinical talent, you need to articulate the benefits of the culture you represent and the value the new opportunity will create for the applicant,” he says.