Upstate hospitals trial hiring model to ease staffing crisis

Healthcare facilities, especially in upstate communities, are getting creative to tackle staffing shortages after many places have more than doubled their labor costs since the start of the pandemic. COVID-19 pandemic.

A shortage of workers in the health care sector was on the rise before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated the long-standing decline.

It has given rise to a recent boom in reliance on the travel industry for healthcare workers, with a 120% increase in contract or travel nurse rosters since January 2019, according to the American Hospital Association.

“We have to learn to pivot and be able to be open to what we can do to attract and retain talented, talented people,” said Anne English, vice president of human resources at Oneida Health.

Oneida Health, like all hospitals, is feeling the pressure with higher labor costs, turnover, and approximately 20,000 vacancies in the Upstate and Western New York regions.

The pressure amid multiple crises led health officials from the Iroquois Healthcare Alliance to create Upstate Works – its own recruiting agency.

The online marketplace shows the salary and administrative costs of healthcare facilities separately, allowing them to offer potential employees competitive salaries with travel rates.

Traveling recruitment agencies generally charge hospitals a fixed, higher rate without distinguishing between salaries and company fees.

“We were never really privy to this type of information,” English said on Friday.

More than 50 facilities in 32 counties served by the Iroquois Healthcare Alliance in Central New York, the North Country and the Capital Region have been using the new hiring model for approximately six weeks to fill open positions. Eight additional hospitals have contracted to use the service.

CEO Gary Fitzgerald said hospitals saw a 50% increase in the cost of agency staff in the first six months of 2022 compared to last year.

“We saw savings of 25 to 30 percent over the traditional model,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a very good idea because we’re never going to solve the staffing issues we have. … We thought it was time to explore this new model and try to reduce the cost of staffing which goes through the agencies.”

Some health care workers are in the early stages of discussions with lawmakers about proposed changes to state law to require staffing agencies to notify hospitals of salary and fee costs up front.

Fitzgerald has discussed issues with the current staffing model with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office and plans to continue conversations with the state health department next year to expand the practice.

“In the traditional model, there is no transparency,” he said. “Everyone needs to see what people are paying for.”

Hospitals say knowing the information makes it easier to recruit staff for often hard-to-fill positions in upstate communities and lowers costs by reducing overhead.

English said the hiring model has allowed the facility to better negotiate wages and attract labor while saving up to $30 an hour off the headline rate.

“Obviously our hope is that we convert them into a more permanent placement in our hospital.”

Former Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation last year requiring hospitals to establish staffing ratios and a plan to meet those standards of care with the state health department.

Health workers plan to advocate for more guidance from the state Department of Health on facility settings to meet staffing needs and avoid an unfunded mandate.


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