Internal agency helps curb workforce challenges, says CHI Health CEO

When EJ Kuiper started as CEO of the Omaha, Neb. established CHI Health, he already had the idea to start an internal employment agency.

Mr. Kuiper, who was also named president of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health’s Midwest division, came from Springfield, Illinois-based Hospital Sisters Health System, which had been working on such an effort.

In addition, he taught the business leaders of CommonSpirit, an organization with 140 hospitals, to include an employment agency in their strategic five-year plan.

“I think it makes sense, because we’re all dealing with significant staff shortages for different reasons,” Kuiper says. Becker’s. “This pandemic has really wreaked havoc on the workforce, both inside and outside the healthcare system.”

Some workers have left healthcare altogether, while others have left their hospital jobs for positions with outside healthcare staffing agencies or retired earlier than planned.

To address this, CHI Health is building pipelines and partnerships with, for example, Omaha-based Creighton University, CHI Health’s academic medical partner, and other training programs in CommonSpirit’s Midwestern division to support recruiting efforts, Mr. Cooper.

While CommonSpirit is developing a corporate-level staffing agency, he’s also working to set up an in-house agency in the company’s Midwest division.

CommonSpirit’s Midwest division has 28 hospitals, and CHI Health manages three more. In total, Mr. Kuiper is responsible for 31 hospitals in North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.

“We need to make sure we have staff available now, not just for COVID and ICU units, but across the spectrum,” Kuiper said. “Building out an in-house agency makes sense on a number of different levels. We plan to recruit people from the outside, recruit people from the inside, to join this pool of staff that can be assigned to where the highest needs in the division, in the system.”

He also noted that COVID-19 peaks occur at different times in different regions.

That’s why “it would be good to have a workforce, an internal pool of people that you can deploy as needs arise in different geographic destinations. That’s the concept behind it,” he said.

Plans for an employment agency are underway.

During the planning process, the most important task is to figure out the best way to quickly deploy employees where the greatest need is, Kuiper said.

Protocols are ironed out. But Mr Kuiper said one option would be to take a tiered approach, where a nurse, medical technologist or respiratory therapist would be in a higher paying tier if they had more flexibility from a geographic point of view.

“Maybe if you’re willing to travel within an hour of your home base, the wage rate would be X. If you’re willing to travel farther, you might get a higher rate,” he said.

“Those are the things we look at, and we want to make sure it’s both from a patient care perspective [and is] attractive to our employees.”

Pittsburgh-based UPMC launched its own in-house staffing agency in December. John Galley, chief human resources officer for the health system, said the compensation for travel nurses at UPMC is still higher than full-time employees because the job comes with its own challenges, including lack of benefits or little control over one’s work schedule. .

CommonSpirit’s Midwest division also hasn’t determined what features are available to the in-house agency, though it’s clear that this will be based on where the greatest needs are and which features are most needed, Mr. Kuiper said.

“We are now in the development phase,” he says. “Looking at the national and regional models, we’re hopeful that this current peak is approaching its peak or maybe it’s over. We also know that we can get a few months delay before the next peak can happen. We don’t know when it will be. Some models show that this could be in the fall, but what we want to make sure is that we’ve developed something that we can deploy the next time that need arises and the staff shortage starts to peak again. ”

Kathleen Sanford, BSN, RN, Executive Vice President and Chief Nurse at CommonSpirit Health, expressed similar sentiments when she spoke with Becker’s in November on company-level efforts.

“We will probably never be able to meet all of our nurse traveler needs, but we are a large enough organization to think we should have our own staffing agency, allowing our nurses to travel if they want to go and see … different parts of the system,” she said. “This will help us maintain the right level of nurses a little easier than when you depend on other partners. I’m not saying we don’t depend on other partners, but we believe the agency is a step in the right direction. “

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