Daily Briefing

The staffing crisis: Inside the battle to attract workers at 2 health care organizations

Two health care organizations in Ohio are changing their benefits packages, increasing sign-on bonuses, and testing creative new strategies to attract workers amid a nationwide staffing crunch, Lydia Coutré reports for Crain's Cleveland Business/Modern Healthcare.

The nationwide staffing crisis hits Ohio hard

Hospitals and health care systems across the country have reported extreme hiring challenges in recent months, in part due to increased demand for staff amid Covid-19 surges. For instance, nearly all of the 73 hospital administrators surveyed in a recent Kaufman Hall poll said they have experienced difficulty filling vacancies for both clinical and support staff.

Among the institutions in Ohio struggling to hire staff are University Hospitals (UH), which has about 28,000 employees and physicians, and the McGregor Foundation, a nonprofit that provides residential and community-based care for seniors.

But the problem isn't unique to Ohio, according to John Palmer, a spokesperson for the Ohio Hospital Association. "This isn't an Ohio problem—we have states, neighboring states that are competing regionally," he said.

The labor shortage has forced Ohio hospitals and health systems to re-evaluate their benefits packages and consider adding signing bonuses and new benefits, such as child care, Palmer said.

How University Hospitals is addressing its staffing crunch

In January, UH had a fairly ordinary number of vacancies: about 1,500, according to Kim Shelnick, UH's VP for talent acquisition. But by October, that number had risen to around 3,000.

"It steadily has gone up every single week throughout the entire year," Shelnick said. "We are working so hard to fill positions … but the numbers just keep escalating."

UH has partnered with Cleveland State University to offer nursing graduates $12,000 from UH contingent on their commitment to work for the health system for two years, Coutré reports. UH is also now offering more frequent signing bonuses of $8,000 to attract staff.

But according to Shelnick, UH has often had to compete with other health systems in the area, including Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth, to fill vacancies. "This is unbelievable—and my colleagues say the same thing—this is an unbelievable volume of openings," Shelnick said. "We have to be extremely creative right now to maneuver through this."

Shelnick argued that collaboration between otherwise competing partners for labor will be critical moving forward. Shelnick said it's the first time in the 15 years she's been in her role that health systems have worked so closely on workforce initiatives, but other institutions—including hospitals, schools, the workforce ecosystem, and the community at large—have to collaborate to solve the bigger issues.

"Those are some pretty big strategies to kind of maneuver through," she said. "How are we going to stop people from relocating out? How are we going to get more people interested in health care?"

How the McGregor Foundation is seeking to attract staff

The McGregor Foundation, meanwhile, has about 100 vacancies among its 600 positions. Ann Conn, CEO of McGregor, said she's had to approach the Covid-19 pandemic—and all of its associated challenges—as a marathon, rather than a sprint.

"Obviously the first component was around the health and safety of our residents and our staff, and as we learn more about the disease and we're able to pivot, now it's become much more about securing resources to support the seniors that we care for, and staffing is the biggest resource at this point in time," Conn said.

In an effort to attract staff, McGregor is offering training programs, which include paid apprenticeships and other initiatives to introduce high schoolers to clinical care, Coutré reports.

McGregor has also increased its wages and is starting to offer sign-on bonuses in some areas. But Conn said it's hard to compete with other institutions' resources.

That's why McGregor started recruiting international nurses last year. But since the immigration process is long, the five international nurses McGregor has in its pipeline are still about a year from being onboarded.

McGregor also teamed up with nonprofit aging services providers throughout Cleveland to start an advertising program recruiting people who may have been displaced because of the pandemic to careers in senior living.

"While I think we did see some success in that, some of the other forces in the community—around the extension of unemployment, the child tax credit, some of these other safety net systems—were headwinds that we didn't experience the same success we were hoping for, but it's probably something we will go back to in the future," Conn said. (Coutré, Crain's Cleveland Business/Modern Healthcare, 11/7)

Advisory Board's take

12 questions to make your careers website more competitive in today's market

Kate Vonderhaar JohnsonBy Kate Vonderhaar Johnson, Managing Director

The intense competition for workers between health care organizations is not surprising. We've known for a while now that a record number of Americans are quitting their jobs, with the health care industry being among the hardest hit. Health care employers must first address why workers are quitting, which will involve addressing the underlying structural challenges contributing to an exodus of employees.

At the same time, organizations need to keep filling open roles, and the competition can feel daunting. Here's a practical step to take today to make sure you're attracting as many candidates as you can: audit your careers website from the candidate's point of view. Consider these questions:

  1. Is there a prominently visible "Careers" or "Jobs" link featured on your organization's homepage?
  2. Is your careers page mobile friendly?
  3. Do you feature videos (e.g., employee stories, facility tours)?
  4. Does your careers page include social networking links?
  5. Does your careers search function allow candidates to filter by specific job types, clinical specialty, locations, or other relevant job search criteria?
  6. Is there a "quick apply" option for hard-to-fill roles on the main careers page?
  7. Do you share total rewards information on your careers page?
  8. Does your careers page highlight your organization's diversity and inclusion efforts?
  9. Are job postings easy to scan and quickly understand?
  10. Is it obvious why taking the job at your organization would be different from taking a similar role somewhere else?
  11. Can candidates communicate directly with a recruiter before they've submitted an application?
  12. Does your careers page have an option for candidates to sign up for organizational updates and new job postings?

The most competitive organizations can answer yes to all of these questions. If you're not there yet, see our report for best practices on how to make applying a "no-brainer" for candidates. In today's labor market, there are far too many opportunities available for talented candidates to endure a lengthy, depersonalized, and unresponsive application process. And while updating your careers website certainly won't solve the staffing crisis, it is a tangible step you can start taking today.

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