NOTE: This blog post features the Recruitment section from OCH's newest report, "Strengthening the health-serving workforce". This report is directly informed by the work of OCH’s partners in behavioral health, primary care, hospitals, dental health, public health, community-based, and Tribal settings. As such, there is room for everyone in this important work. OCH aims to support a strong and healthy workforce, which ultimately produces a ripple effect that positively impacts individual and population health.
Recruitment refers to the hiring of new employees. Recruitment was identified as the most challenging element of the workforce process. Common challenges included offering competitive salaries and benefits, limited availability of affordable housing, and reaching qualified candidates to fill specific gaps. Partners across the Olympic region are implementing creative solutions to address recruitment barriers.
Competitive salaries and benefits
Competitive salaries and benefits play a huge role in recruiting a strong health-serving workforce. Nine out of ten partners listed this as the factor with the greatest impact on recruitment. This poses a significant challenge for the Olympic region, as it is difficult to compete with urban neighbors in Seattle and across the nation, especially considering the rising cost of livingxiv in all three Olympic counties.
Partners that provide health services for clients enrolled in Medicaid heavily depend on fixed reimbursement rates to establish employee salaries. The smaller, more rural nature of the communities many partners serve leads to significantly lower reimbursement funds when compared with more urban areas.
Competitive salaries and benefits, though the biggest impact on recruitment, are an opportunity for success sharing and collaboration. Less than half of OCH’s partners report successes in “competitive salaries” and/or “competitive benefits”.
Success: Improved benefits, Peninsula Behavioral Health
Peninsula Behavioral Health has worked hard to creatively provide and improve employee benefit packages, as salaries are more difficult to adjust due to reimbursement rates. They recently started providing flexible health benefit funds that can be used by employees to support their own unique health needs outside of supports that use health savings funds. This benefit has been utilized to purchase new hiking shoes, pedicures, kayaks, gym memberships, and more. This is an equitable approach that allows employees to pick the activity that would support their individual health, instead of applying the same perk to everyone regardless of how it resonates. They shared that this benefit provides, “…the flexibility to use it as they see fit. With COVID-19 we increased the amount because we knew people needed more support.”
Over half of OCH’s partners reported that “affordable and quality housing leads” have great impact on recruitment. Housing is particularly critical among partners in Clallam and Jefferson counties as a large proportion of vacant homes are used for seasonal or recreational use. xv Often times a candidate will be an excellent fit for the job, but is unable to secure affordable, quality housing
within the initial few weeks of the job. Without secure housing, candidates cannot sustainably commit to positions. One partner describes, “We would like to offer more money to our staff and allow part time positions, but limited housing prevents that.”
When looking at the impact of housing on recruitment through the lens of partner type, all regional hospitals identified this as the biggest challenge, compared to just over half of primary care providers.
Success: Temporary housing support for new hires, Jamestown Family Health Clinic
Due to the challenge in finding housing, Jamestown Family Health Clinic offers temporary housing support on a case-by-case basis for new recruits moving from out of the region. Historically, Jamestown has provided up to three months of housing financial support for new hires, to provide them with a buffer to find adequate housing in their first few weeks on the job. Jamestown Family Health Clinic also owns a couple of rental homes to support new hires who are moving to the region and struggling to find housing. These approaches help recruit and maintain quality workforce, as they reduce the risk of someone signing on and then having to withdraw due to inability to find housing.
Recruiting strong, qualified candidates is a challenge in the Olympic region since the only higher education options within the region are community colleges and university extension programs. This lack of universities within the region leads to a lack of local candidates to fill health-serving workforce positions that require specific education requirements. See appendix B for ideas on how to spruce up job descriptions and articulate the value of working in rural health settings.
When asked about the top 3 significant challenges or barriers to recruitment, “Availability of a qualified workforce” was one of the top themes that came up. Competition for qualified workers is a key component of this challenge, as partners may be competing against each other, in addition to competing with bigger organizations outside of the region.
Certain gaps are tougher to fill, making the
competition to hire that much stronger. Dental assistants, medical assistants, and therapists were the most notable gaps among our partners.
Partner with local community college, North Olympic Healthcare Network
North Olympic Healthcare Network has found success with recruitment of Medical Assistants (MAs) through an ongoing training relationship with a local community college. This relationship was cultivated over years and provides an opportunity to let MA students train and get to know their clinic, staff, and mission. They find the work environment attractive and having mutual familiarity facilitates recruitment in a competitive environment.
Nursing residency, Jefferson Healthcare
To address the challenge of recruiting nurses, Jefferson Healthcare developed and implemented a nursing residency program for their Acute Care Unit, Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Department, Home Health, and Family Birth areas. They were extraordinarily successful in recruiting and hired nine new nurses through this approach. They were intentional about creating new marketing strategies and ran a very specific campaign over the course of a few months, went to job fairs, and connected with schools.
Want to learn more? Read the rest of the report!