NYC Health Agency HR at epicenter of pandemic

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene talent acquisition team had to overcome incredible odds as the agency performed its vital role in the fight against the deadly COVID-19 virus. over the past 22 months.

The strong group of recruiting professionals have implemented aggressive sourcing strategies to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates, while having to quickly adapt to working from home and remote and virtual recruiting practices.

Heather Badger, director of recruiting for the agency, spoke with SHRM online on the department’s challenges and successes and how the pandemic has become a catalyst for the implementation of unconventional recruiting practices.

SHRM online: Tell me about some of the biggest recruiting challenges the department has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Badger: As New York City’s primary public health agency, the Department of Health has provided the first line of defense in controlling the spread of this deadly virus. Recruitment has become extremely difficult. It was an extremely tumultuous time for New York City, which was considered the epicenter of the first wave of the pandemic in the United States. When the agency activated its Incident Command System, in which current staff were reassigned to COVID-19 response positions, the Ministry of Health had several high-priority vacancies to fill in order to support operational objectives. daily routines and agency emergency preparedness.

Additionally, due to the fiscal impact of the pandemic, New York City agencies were initially subject to a temporary hiring freeze. In addition to these pandemic-specific challenges, the Department of Health, like many government agencies, is hiring through a highly structured civil service process and citywide union negotiations. While these systems provide employees with job security and excellent benefits, including comprehensive medical coverage and pensions, they limit the agency’s ability to offer salaries competitive with the private sector.

SHRM online: What types of positions do you normally recruit for and which have proven to be the most challenging during the pandemic?

Badger: We hire for a wide range of roles such as nurses, pharmacists, health educators, community health workers, economists, epidemiologists, data analysts, veterinarians and restaurant inspectors. We are also hiring for a range of positions to support health department operations, including accountants, police officers, IT staff and attorneys.

Vacancies that have proven the hardest to fill during the pandemic include laboratory microbiologists to implement rapid COVID-19 PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test; disease detectives and epidemiologists to investigate outbreaks and break the chains of COVID-19 [transmission]; trained nurses to administer vaccines; community outreach workers to help support vaccination in hesitant communities; social workers; and computer scientists.

SHRM online: How has the HR/talent acquisition function been impacted by the pandemic?

Badger: During public health emergencies, the majority of the agency workforce is activated to perform an emergency preparedness role separate from their normal day-to-day role, but routine day-to-day operational functions must continue. Thus, several members of the HR team have been given additional responsibilities outside of their usual functions. At the same time, the scope of talent acquisition has expanded, with targeted recruitment for emerging public health priorities related to COVID-19, in addition to recruitment services for routine day-to-day operational purposes and the agency’s public health goals of more than 6,000 employees.

During most of the pandemic, Health Department recruiting operations transitioned to a remote work format wherever possible to promote social distancing and employee safety, and recruiting and talent acquisition were successfully completed virtually. In September 2021, the Mayor of New York announced an in-person return to work for all staff except those in need of housing.

SHRM online: How did you overcome these challenges?

Badger: I am proud to say that many of our team members are Certified Diversity Recruiters who are trained in Advanced Internet Recruiting Strategies (AIRS) and have achieved both White Belt and Green Belt in Lean Six. Sigma. This has elevated the level of HR training and provided us with a competitive advantage to skillfully navigate and overcome various recruiting challenges, while eliminating redundant recruiting practices and strategically focusing on more effective business goals and objectives that have increased the recognition of our employer brand. within the healthcare industry.

SHRM online: What types of unconventional recruiting tactics and strategies have you found effective?


  • In conjunction with the agency’s Office of External Affairs, launched social media campaigns via LinkedIn and Twitter to promote the positions.
  • Disseminate vacancies to faculty members of medical schools and university partners that offer accredited programs in relevant fields, as well as to professional societies and associations (eg, American Society of Clinical Pathology).
  • Attend and host virtual career fairs, information sessions and resume workshops. Virtual job fairs were a particularly important strategy for filling our public health vacancies that were essential for conducting COVID-19 inspections at food service establishments and daycares, and for finding laboratory technologists for PCR testing. .
  • Posting on various diversity-focused job boards.
  • Networking with community organizations, elected officials and their constituents.
  • Establish a collaborative network and recruitment partnership with the New York State Department of Education to obtain a roster of licensed healthcare professionals across multiple disciplines (e.g., social workers, nurses, laboratory technologists and medical assistants) in and around New York. With the support of our data analytics team, we were able to promote relevant vacancies related to COVID-19 to thousands of these healthcare professionals by sending out emails, successfully filling many of our vacancies. vacant.

SHRM online: What have been some of your biggest team accomplishments during the pandemic?

Badger: In response to the immediate threat posed by COVID-19, we hosted a COVID Disease Detective Hiring Event within 48 hours and welcomed approximately 110 applicants. The primary responsibility of disease detectives is to investigate case reports of suspected and confirmed communicable diseases, including COVID-19. The Ministry of Health made 41 offers on the spot and the remaining candidates were integrated in the following months.

Our continuity of operations despite the personal and professional upheavals of the pandemic is an accomplishment in itself. While working remotely from March 2020 to September 2021, we reviewed and qualified over 9,000 resumes. Additionally, we solicited over 6,000 resumes from virtual career fairs that are being considered for current openings.

SHRM online: Has your agency experienced many resignations?

Badger: Although on a relatively small scale, our agency has experienced retention and turnover issues from various health care professionals, primarily nurses, social workers and physicians. The most common themes for their departure were a strong desire to move to another state, wanting more flexibility in their work schedule that would allow for a mix of in-person and remote work, and prioritizing family ties and a greater focus on his mental health. in relation to his professional commitment in his career.

SHRM online: What is the department’s talent acquisition and retention outlook for 2022?

Badger: We will amplify our diversity and inclusion recruitment goals and objectives by committing to the following:

  • Engage in broader social media promotion of our high priority vacancies.
  • Conduct more structured interviews and diversity and inclusion training for hiring managers across the agency.
  • Recommit to conducting cultural sensitivity trainings to make the Department of Health an inclusive place for new applicants and existing staff of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations, and/or who have disabilities.
  • Strategically maximize our targeted recruitment efforts among individuals who identify as having a criminal record, Black or African American, Latino/a or Hispanic, LGBTQIA+; People with Disabilities; and veterans.
  • Amplify workforce training and development of our internal workforce.
  • Create a diverse and inclusive mentorship program.
  • Engage in greater internal promotion of our existing workforce.
  • Analyze compensation structures to ensure fairness and, where warranted and possible, increase compensation to support retention.

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