Hospitals Under Pressure to Pay Competitive Salaries in the Market
Small healthcare organizations struggle to recruit and retain as many workers demand more wages and better benefits.
(Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series on the healthcare labor market from the CFO’s perspective.)
Healthcare workers have been the first line of defense in the battle against COVID-19. Doctors, nurses and other caregivers spent extremely long hours with little rest and little relief in sight. The result is that some healthcare workers leave the field altogether, while many others take jobs at competing healthcare centers that are willing to pay more or offer better benefits.
This trend is not unique to healthcare, it is happening in many industries. But competitive labor markets put significant pressure on small hospitals and healthcare providers, who typically lack the resources to win in a bidding war for job applicants.
The payment of competitive market wages to health workers obviously differs from region to region. This can be especially difficult in an area where larger hospitals are known for their superior levels of care and, as a result, excel at recruitment and retention.
This is the dilemma facing Pembroke Hospital, an acute behavioral health care facility in Pembroke, MA, which has just launched a new compensation structure for its nurses and mental health assistants (MHAs) in order to remain competitive in one of the main areas of health in the world.
Pay competitively in an area known for its best hospitals and healthcare
As Boston is a premier health care center, this seems to be a good thing for all health care providers in the region. But that’s not the case when it comes to hiring and retention strategies. Either way, size and reputation matter a lot, and major healthcare institutions are vying for the cream of the crop.
“Recruitment in the health sector is difficult in Massachusetts,” explains Erin McGarry-Sullivan, 120-bed CFO Pembroke Hospital. âWe have the best hospitals and services in the world, and it takes a lot of hard-working, caring and knowledgeable people to continue this tradition. Every hospital is looking for these people, and they are in great demand. “
To make matters worse, as the pandemic progresses, the number of available job candidates has declined as some healthcare workers have left the field and the pipeline for the production of new workers has slowed. Meanwhile, new healthcare facilities are opening up, especially satellite facilities for Boston-based hospitals, keeping the demand high.
âHiring is very competitive,â says McGarry-Sullivan. “We are currently looking for 60 MHAs and 21 RNs. MHA is an entry-level position, and no previous experience is necessary. This is a great job for a Psychiatry major working on a Masters degree. Two weeks training is offered. ., as well as CPR certification and Handle with Care. A new hire would work as a shadow team on units with senior managers. “
âWe’re looking for RNs with some experience,â says McGarry-Sullivan. âPsychological nursing is unique and we need specialist nurses who care [for] and understanding patients with psychiatric illness. We recruit year round and offer paid internships. The hiring period is long, and from acceptance to networking takes about a month. “
Adjusting compensation strategies at a time of great challenges
Due to the gap between supply and demand for skilled healthcare workers, Pembroke Hospital has found it necessary to reshuffle its salary structure during the pandemic. Steps in redesigning a compensation program may include monitoring what competitors are paying, tracking local and industry salary surveys, surveying employees, and paying close attention to job postings in the marketplace.
âWe just launched a new compensation structure for RNs and MHAs,â said McGarry-Sullivan. âThe starting salary for an MHA is $ 19 an hour, with no experience or college degree; or $ 20 an hour if you have a degree but no experience. We provide comprehensive employee benefits, with a repayment allowance of $ 5,200 per year and $ 200 per month for student loan cancellation. Our basic hourly rate for RNs is $ 34 per hour, and it increases with years of experience. “
With the recent salary adjustments, McGarry-Sullivan says the hospital now feels “we’re building the market, especially here on the South Shore. [of Massachusetts] for the post of MHA. It is now a paid-for-life job that can turn into a lifelong career with investments made in education. “
But fair market remuneration is only one piece of the puzzle. Successful recruitment and retention efforts require that a healthcare organization address all aspects of a worker’s personal and professional development needs, McGarry-Sullivan stresses.
His advice: âPay people a fair and decent wage. Offer them training and mentorship. Encourage advancement through education. Offer continuing education on site. Have unit administrators speak to staff. Support them emotionally and physically. Keep the dialogue open. We have town halls every few weeks to keep the lines of communication open. “
Fair pay and healthy benefits tell a worker they are valued
A healthy list of benefits packages and a competitive salary go a long way in making a worker or new hire feel valued, and that’s essential in these tough times.
âThe staff are people who live their lives and who need to be paid a living wage,â says McGarry-Sullivan. “I recommend using this guide as a reference for setting rates.” McGarry-Sullivan cites the following resource at https://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/25023.
When evaluating what a competitive salary is in the marketplace, McGarry-Sullivan says it’s important to not only think in terms of the salary paid with each paycheck, but also in terms of the financial burden for the hospital if it loses a key worker.
âPeople are not commodities. They cannot be traded like gadgets,â says McGarry-Sullivan. âWhen you find a good one, don’t lose it. The cost of attrition is astonishing. So when someone asks for a raise, think about both that person’s tangible and intangible assets. Think about the loss of this person, and what impact it will have on their coworkers. Estimate the cost of lost training and experience. Usually you will find that the amount requested is paltry compared to the loss of that good employee. “
Finally, McGarry-Sullivan says it’s also important to think in terms of the value a healthcare worker brings to their role.
âJust because the employee’s education and training levels may not be equal to those of other members of your staff, remember what your business is. We treat the patients. The people in this building who have the most contact with our patients are our nurses and mental health associates. . They create 95% of the value we deliver. Never forget that and treat them with admiration and the utmost respect, always, âsaid McGarry-Sullivan.