Hospitals, senior care facilities, community health centers and other employers compete to hire candidates to fill thousands of vacant positions at healthcare facilities in Northeast Ohio because burnout, career changes, geographic relocations and more all contribute to the increase in vacancies.
Nationally, health care employment has declined by 460,000 since February 2020, according to the latest figures from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In January, teaching hospitals had about 1,500 vacant positions, a figure typical of the health care system. But that number had doubled to around 3,000 by the end of October, said Kim Shelnick, UH’s vice president for talent acquisition. That figure excludes Lake Health, which officially became a member of the UH in April 2021. Lake Health currently has around 400 openings, also significantly more than normal.
“It has steadily increased every week throughout the year,” she said. “We are working so hard to fill the positions … but the numbers keep increasing.”
UH has collaborated with the Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth where possible, Shelnick said, but they all hire candidates from each other because there just aren’t enough staff and new graduates to fill them all. open roles.
“It’s amazing – and my colleagues say the same thing – it’s an incredible volume of openings,” Shelnick said. “We have to be extremely creative right now to overcome this.”
The substantial number of openings across the state cover clinical and administrative roles, and the competitive environment has required creativity, said John Palmer, spokesperson for the Ohio Hospital Association. In addition to reassessing benefits, he said more and more hospitals were looking at enrollment bonuses, as well as things employees might need for work, like child care.
The pipeline for healthcare workers is just not adequate right now, he said.
“It’s not an Ohio problem – we have states, neighboring states competing regionally,” he said.
It’s not just hospitals, but also nursing homes and community health centers in every state across the country looking for healthcare workers.
Citing staffing issues, Summa Health began reducing its inpatient bed capacity by 22% at the end of September and announced a series of other measures to bring its inpatient capacity into line with current staffing levels. available. In early November, Dr. David Custodio, president of the Summa’s Akron and St. Thomas campuses, said in a statement that the system was making progress toward its goal of reducing the number of beds.
The McGregor Foundation, a nonprofit provider of residential and community care for the elderly, currently has approximately 500 of its 600 positions filled. Vacancies range from administrative billing and social work to housekeeping, nursing and a doctor, said Ann Conn, CEO of McGregor. The pandemic, which was originally intended to be a sprint, is now clearly a marathon, she said.
“Obviously the first part was about the health and safety of our residents and staff, and as we learn more about the disease and are able to pivot, it is now a matter of ensuring resources to support the seniors we care for. , and staffing is the biggest resource right now, ”she said.
As everyone in healthcare competes for workers, it will depend on each institution, its mission, its working environment – and how these can help attract staff, said Palmer.
Having faced anticipated and existing shortages in various clinical fields and specialties for years, employers have already implemented workforce development programs.
McGregor offers training programs, including paid apprenticeships and initiatives to introduce high school students to clinical care.
Hospitals in the region have collaborated with educational institutions at all levels to increase the pool of students and ultimately graduates. For example, UH is starting to see graduates from a program it started with Cleveland State University. UH Nursing Scholars received $ 12,000 from UH, subject to a two-year work engagement with the system.
The main reason employees leave UH goes to a competitor, Shelnick said. The second reason for nurse turnover is relocation out of the region – for a rolling 12 month period, 151 RNs cited this reason.
Because the shortages “are so severe,” Shelnick said they’ve teamed up with the clinic, Metro and the NEO team to try and figure out this relocation statistic.
“We need to find innovative solutions to produce more and conserve more in Northeast Ohio,” Shelnick said.
Expansion of pipeline programs continues to be important, but will not address immediate critical gaps that hospitals are struggling to fill.
After accepting an offer, people didn’t show up or called at the last minute to say they had found another job, Shelnick said. This has happened 70 times in the past two months alone.
Healthcare employers are also balancing the use of their existing staff to cover shifts and maintain patient safety and quality, while avoiding overloading them, as burnout continues to be a concern. major and a factor in some separations.
UH’s Helping Hands program – where employees can volunteer to take shifts to help in clinical areas – has been one way to alleviate some of that workload. Since September, 920 employees from 392 non-clinical departments have helped fill 6,188 shifts in clinical areas. They perform tasks such as analyzing laboratory samples to allow clinical staff to stay at the bedside. Also as part of the program, 225 registered nurses in non-bedside positions have been trained to assist in clinical areas, covering 770 shifts since September.
UH offers login bonuses of up to $ 8,000. Although it has offered login bonuses at this level before, it is offering the figure of $ 8,000 more often, compared to its typical range of $ 3,000 to $ 6,000 for some areas.
McGregor raised salaries and offered connection bonuses in some areas, but Conn said it was difficult to compete with resources in other industries because the nonprofit’s reimbursement rates do not keep up with those. expenses.
So he found other ways to try to attract more applicants.
Last year, recognizing the need for more staff, McGregor began recruiting international nurses, a practice hospitals have long employed and Conn would like to see others in the area begin to implement. Because the immigration process takes time, the five international nurses in preparation are still about a year away from their integration.
Also late last year, McGregor partnered with a group of nonprofit aging service providers around Cleveland to pilot a non-traditional advertising recruiting program from last November to the first half of this year. Together, they tried to introduce people who might have been displaced during the pandemic to a potential career in retirement homes. For example, said Conn, healthcare workers who were perhaps looking for a more mission-oriented organization who hadn’t thought of the life of the elderly as a career option.
“While I think we’ve had some success in this area, some of the other strengths in the community – around the spread of unemployment, the child tax credit, some of these other safety net systems – were headwinds that we didn’t have the same successes we hoped for, but that’s probably something we’ll come back to in the future, ”she said.
The effort created partnerships with other organizations that had previously worked independently, and rather than just trying to compete for limited employees, Conn said they chose to come together to try and expand the pool of candidates. generally.
Collaboration between partners who otherwise compete for talent in the workforce will be essential going forward, Shelnick said. This is the first time in 15 years in his role that health systems are working so closely on workforce initiatives, but hospitals, schools, the workforce ecosystem and the community must come together to solve the larger problem.
“These are pretty important strategies to maneuver,” she said. “How are we going to prevent people from moving? How are we going to get more people interested in health care? “