October 9th, 2020 | Val Poltorak, General Manager, Healthcare and Life Sciences, Sterling

The State of Healthcare Hiring: Sterling Client Insights

On September 23, I had the opportunity to sit down with four healthcare talent management leaders for an open conversation about where we stand, seven months into this pandemic in the United States. I wanted to hear from them how their challenges and priorities have evolved since spring. Certainly the challenges — though different from March — are real. Our clients are juggling a lot, much of which would have been completely unfamiliar a year ago.

However, the rate of change has also resulted in swift improvements — ranging from incremental to full-blown transformation — that our panelists feel are likely to have lasting positive impact. We focused our attention on this progress, especially in how we keep employees safe and how we work. Most powerfully, we heard about shifts to the heart of our organizations’ cultures that feel meaningful and enduring.

I am sharing highlights below, but I also encourage you to listen to our full discussion here.

Keeping Employees Safe

Organizations had to move so quickly to keep their employees safe — setting them up to work from home, carefully orchestrating who could return to the workplace and when, implementing temperature checks, reconfiguring physical spaces, and much more. That would have been hard enough even if we knew everything we know now. The panel and I talked about what they learned through the process.

Certainly, testing itself has evolved. At Sterling, we have learned in these past few months that an at-home saliva-based test best meets the needs of many of our clients, so we have invested heavily there. The process and turnaround time have gotten better and better.

Panelist Claudine Coke, Senior Manager of HR Compliance at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), talked about how they have learned new ways to convey important safety messages and shared some highlights from their successful masking campaign. With tag lines such as “Don’t let your mask down,” their campaign to ensure everyone knows how to properly mask has included short videos, digital signage, employee selfies, and talking points for difficult conversations. CHOP has also been able to reallocate under-tapped employees to do important contact tracing work.

Christina Baker is Employee Screening Manager at Life Care Centers of America. Since her organization provides long-term care, they are subject to very specific requirements and guidelines from CMS and their states, which have themselves evolved over time. Given that Life Care has more than 200 facilities in 28 states, it is no mean feat to organize and implement this program. (By the way, let us know if we can help your organization in meeting these requirements — it is not easy, and we are here for you.) However, what really struck me was how they have been reflecting on what they learned and are applying it to their preparedness for the next possible emergency.

Improvements and Efficiencies for Today… and Tomorrow

I did not have to ask twice about improvements and efficiencies that organizations have found that are helping them to address fluctuating needs and budget pressures. Examples of these changes were plentiful, ranging from team alignment to specific technology solutions. Better yet, leaders agreed that they would be around to stay. “We have taken the time to really reevaluate and modify some of the ways we do business,” Claudine Coke said.

Amy Van Buren, Senior Director of Global Talent Acquisition at BD, one of the largest global medical technology companies in the world, shared that Talent Acquisition has revamped its service delivery model. “Coming into COVID, we knew we needed to respond to business needs, connecting more closely to the business and being more consultative and strategic talent acquisition partners.” They have restructured the team to move away from transactional service, creating roles like Talent Acquisition Business Partner. They are building pipelines for future talent needs and have put new capabilities in place that are serving them well as they continue to ramp up hiring.

The pause in business as usual also gave Amy’s team the opportunity to zoom out and re-think screening requirements, and especially when educational requirements and drug screening are truly needed for the role. This reflection has simplified processes, accelerated speed to hire, and potentially expanded the organization’s applicant pool of qualified candidates.

Christopher Long, Chief Process Officer at Supplemental Health Care, cited a number of technology investments and improvements. As a medical staffing organization on a national level, Supplemental had to react nimbly as demand moved around the country. They partnered with Sterling to streamline their screening, with criminal background checks, drug screening, and occupational health all centralized and organized so they could get their caregivers working where they are needed as quickly as possible. Supplemental has also stood up Tableau to create on-demand dashboards that help to get the right information to the right people quickly.

Christina Baker, from Life Care Centers of America, and Claudine Coke, from CHOP, both talked about how they had to be nimble with labor demand as it shifted. At Life Care, needs changed every day as hot spots moved across the country. They sometimes needed to be ready to replace an entire shift to ensure the level of care they are committed to delivering. They worked with licensing agencies to be able to place nurses across state lines, and with schools to ensure their CNA pipeline. Though post-COVID needs will be different, Christina says, “My hope is that some of the flexibility will remain.” Meanwhile, since the pandemic created uneven demand in hospital systems, CHOP launched an internal talent marketplace, matching employees in departments with lower demand with needs in other departments.

Lasting Change to Our Organizational Cultures

These past months have given us the opportunity not only to recognize and celebrate what is best in our organizational cultures, but also to evolve and strengthen them.

It is no surprise that organizations that have always been in-person have discovered that remote work can work. To Amy Van Buren, the surprise is how much more connected her team feels. They have always been global, distributed across the world, but they have made use of new collaboration tools and reevaluated how they work. They are making the effort to put their videos on and are focused on the ways they can make their interactions more meaningful that do not necessarily require jumping on a plane or being in the same room.

Christopher Long told us — and the rest of us agreed — that the days of coming to work sick are gone. It used to be acceptable — even celebrated — to push through illness and come to work despite symptoms. “The culture has shifted tremendously,” he says, and believes this change in mindset is here to stay. Certainly we now have the remote tools in place to make it easier for team members who do not feel too sick to work to stay home with their germs rather than sharing them.

Christopher also talked about how his organization has become more creative. For example, as schools shut down last spring but opened up lunch programs for students who needed them, Supplemental partnered with schools to have their clinicians give out lunches. This allowed the clinicians to stay connected with their students during this rocky and isolating time. “One of the things that’s long-lasting is thinking, how can we collaborate even more… how can we partner to get really creative about delivering care,” he said.

Christina Baker shared Life Care Centers of America’s renewed focus on gratitude. Their direct-care employees showed up despite difficulty and danger to care for their residents, when it would have been safer and easier to stay home. They often had to put their own lives and families on hold to do so. When facilities were short-staffed, executives also rolled up their sleeves and did whatever was needed to continue caring for their residents — whether that was cleaning up, helping in the kitchen, or sitting with residents since families could not visit. Life Care has launched a new “Champions of Care” initiative to make sure these selfless acts do not go unrecognized, naming each facility a “Home of Champions,” and regularly sharing videos and stories highlighting their direct-care staff.

Claudine Coke inspired us by telling us about the hospital system’s focus on choosing “progress over perfection.” As a leading pediatric hospital and research institution, they have always been perfectionists, but as the CHOP CEO, Madeline Bell, explained in a post on this concept, “a focus on ‘being perfect’ can stand in the way of something even more important: making progress that will help you reach your goals. Aiming for perfection can stop you in your tracks and keep you from moving forward. It can prevent you from taking risks. It can make you afraid to talk about things that aren’t going well, which in turn makes it difficult to find ways to improve. It can cause you to get so mired in details that you lose sight of your big-picture priorities.” While Madeline Bell championed this shift in 2019, it really gained traction this year, and Claudine told us it allowed her team to embrace the unknown and make quick progress. This concept resonated with all of our panelists, who have also been focused on agility, flexibility, and progress over the unattainable goal of perfection.

New connections and shared humanity. Champions of Care. Progress over perfection. Gratitude. I was so inspired by our wonderful panelists and their stories. I would love to hear yours — please reach out to us directly.

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