South Florida Hospital News
Monday August 19, 2019

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March 2007 - Volume 3 - Issue 9




2007 Human Resource Challenges for South Florida Hospitals

Recruitment and retention of adequate numbers of well-qualified health care professionals continues to be a problem for hospitals across the country, and the growing crisis is taking a toll on the entire health care system. For hospital human resource (HR) professionals in South Florida, it is the top priority, followed by a myriad of additional challenges that make HR departments among the busiest and most dynamic places within their organizations.

Just as health care professionals serve the complex needs of patients and families, HR professionals serve the employment-related needs of hospital staff members. Those needs are also complex and growing in number Ė HR departments administer employee benefits and compensation; recruit, interview and hire new employees; oversee employee performance evaluations; work with supervisors on performance and disciplinary problems; manage terminations and retirements; manage labor relations; devise and implement retention strategies; and in many cases, also provide employee assistance and wellness programs. Throughout all of these functions, HR professionals serve as an essential partner to every organizational department and are a significant element in the hospitalís mission and culture.

To Maria Rivera, Director of Human Resources at Westside Regional Medical Center, that aspect of HR work is the most critical. "There is much more to human resources than policies and procedures," she says. "Every day, we interact with administrators, employees and prospective employees. We have a customer-service focus; everyone has a relationship with the HR department and is our customer. We view ourselves as the Ďfront doorí to the hospital, where the first impression is made."

Westside is a 227-bed acute care facility, where Rivera and her team engage in a daily effort to fill positions and develop recruitment and retention strategies that will set the hospital apart as the employer of choice for the region. "Our goal is for all health care professionals to want to work here," she says. "Currently, we find that the greatest demand is for nurses, physical therapists and respiratory therapists. We utilize bonus programs, new graduate courses and preceptorships, a clinical ladder and other successful programs."

Rivera says that staff shortages are becoming increasingly impacted by a relatively new challenge: relocation of population, and subsequent employee turnover. "There is an exodus of residents out of South Florida, as a result of the costly housing market, high property taxes and high costs of homeowners insurance. People used to come here in droves, but now the opposite is happening and we have never seen it before."

Larry Brinkman, Chief of Human Resource Management Services for the Miami Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, agrees with Rivera that the cost of living is driving residents to relocate, to the middle of the state or even out-of-state. "Itís difficult for a family to be able to afford a house here," he says. "There are also quality-of-life issues, such as horrendous traffic and long commutes." Although Brinkman reports decreasing numbers of applicants, the Miami VA hospital is part of an enormous national system within which employees can relocate without any loss of benefits. "We are essentially staffed where we need to be," he says, "although qualified professional employees can be hard to find. We are limited because as a federal agency, we can only hire citizens; that excludes non-citizen nurses. But we have the advantage of accepting a license from any state."

Brinkman says that the local health care labor market is highly competitive. "There is now competition for new graduates, even though most institutions want experienced candidates. Pharmacists are in short supply and we are even competing with retail chains for them." The VA has numerous affiliations with regional health care schools, a resource that he identifies as tremendously helpful. In addition, the VA offers excellent salaries and benefits, plus relocation expenses in some cases. "We have a unique culture at the VA. Most of our facilities are university-affiliated and have research, teaching and clinical care functions and the latest technology. There are 162 hospitals and the potential for promotion, once you are in our system, is great."

At West Boca Medical Center (WBMC), HR Director Stephanie Sherman says that her priority is the recruitment and retention of top talent across all disciplines. "We are directing our efforts to nurses but also to other professions, including lab techs. It seems that fewer schools are preparing lab techs." Sherman says that at WBMC, relocation is the primary reason for turnover. "Throughout South Florida, the cost of homeowners insurance is out of control. This is a growing problem for South Florida hospitals."

To recruit and retain employees, Sherman and her department employ some innovative initiatives, including a Weekend Premium Pay Program, a Nurses Incentive and Recognition program, an in-house employee newsletter to keep the staff informed, administrative rounds and an employee referral program. There is a service award program and an employee social activities committee.

Sherman believes that one of the greatest challenges facing healthcare HR directors is the need for a comprehensive workforce planning program. "We donít have a crystal ball but we know the workforce is aging. We need to make sure we have a workforce in the years ahead. This must be addressed, along with the need to re-examine benefits packages to reflect social trends. The cost of benefits is a huge issue that is a problem for HR professionals across all industries. HR professionals have to plan for the future."

Maria Rivera can be contacted at
Larry Brinkman can be contacted at
Stephanie Sherman can be contacted at
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