In the Face of COVID Exhaustion and Market Competitiveness, How CT Healthcare Networks Maintain Staffing Levels

For the past two years, Connecticut healthcare professionals have been working on the front lines amid the worst public health crisis of the past century.

They remain in high demand, as underlined by the state’s stable healthcare sector employment levels since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But competition from other employers and a limited labor pool have made it difficult to hire at hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which are simultaneously trying to bolster the retention and development of their employees to ensure that they have enough long-term workers.

“We are challenged to find talent because we are all fishing in the same pond,” said Melissa Turner, director of human resources for Yale New Haven Health System, which includes hospitals in Bridgeport, Greenwich and Yale New. Haven, in an interview. “There’s just more competition for talent in our market.”

Looking to hire

As it was before the pandemic, health care is one of the most important sectors of Connecticut’s economy. About 270,000 people worked in health care and social assistance in Connecticut in February, down 2% from a total of 275,000 in February 2020, according to the state Department of Labor.

The total number of people employed in the state in February 2022 was about 1.64 million, down 3% from February 2020.

Today, hospitals across the state are hiring for a range of clinical positions, such as nurses and medical technicians, and non-clinical jobs. But they are grappling with a tight labor supply following widespread retirements and quits among healthcare workers over the past two years, part of a ‘big quit’ affecting many industries.

“We continue to try to find creative ways to meet our patients’ needs and fill our staffing gaps,” Turner said. “But the labor pool is considerably smaller than it was a few years ago. Frankly, it doesn’t appear to be growing exponentially any time soon. »

At the same time, hospitals face stiff competition for job seekers from other healthcare providers and employers in other sectors. As of March 25, job postings in the United States were up 58% from the “pre-pandemic baseline” on Indeed, one of the world’s largest job boards.

Despite these challenges, headcount over the past two years has increased slightly for Yale New Haven Health. Its latest total of around 30,000 employees compares to around 28,500 at this point in 2020.

Nuvance Health – which includes Danbury, New Milford and Norwalk hospitals – has also kept its employee levels steady in recent years. It now operates with approximately 12,000 employees in Connecticut and New York.

“While staffing is an ongoing challenge, our communities can rest assured knowing that these internal staff development and external recruitment strategies have worked,” Norwalk Hospital President Peter Cordeau said in a statement. a new report.

“Nuvance Health filled a record number of positions in our last fiscal year and we welcome approximately 85 new employees every week across the health system. This has translated into continued excellent care for our patients and our communities.

At Hartford HealthCare, which includes Hartford Hospital and St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, several hundred people have been hired in recent months. Like Yale New Haven Health and Nuvance, he is always looking for many more recruits.

“The reality is that this is an extremely competitive market,” John Rossi, Hartford HealthCare’s vice president for Fairfield and system operations, told Hearst Connecticut Media in December. “Supply does not match demand.”

The ability of health care providers to offer competitive salaries varies widely. In 2020, the most recent year for which full-year data is available, the average annual salary in the private sector was $42,710 for nursing and residential care facilities, 73 $992 for hospitals and $77,195 for outpatient health care services, according to the State Department. of work.

The statewide average was $75,411.

“The more you raise the salary, the more likely you are to get more applicants. Compensation is important to job seekers,” AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Stamford-based Indeed, said in an interview.

“I think as some of the ‘scars’ of the pandemic fade, you may find that in the longer term interest is starting to shift back towards health care. Over the next year, I would say, interest will likely shift to the highest paying occupations in the profession.

Demand for healthcare workers is unlikely to dissipate soon. National employment in health occupations is expected to grow by 16% from 2020 to 2030, “much faster than the average for all occupations”, with the addition of about 2.6 million new jobs, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Develop our talent from within”

As they seek new hires, officials from the state’s largest health systems said employee retention and development also remain top priorities.

“We really tried to focus on our talent management and planning by creating programs to develop our people,” Turner said. “We are really, more than ever, developing our talent from within.”

Among related initiatives, Yale New Haven Health on Thursday announced a partnership with Fairfield University, Gateway Community College, Quinnipiac University and Southern Connecticut State University that aims to train at least 557 additional nurses over the next four years. .

Yale New Haven Health is committing approximately $1.7 million over the next four years to provide scholarships and books to students who otherwise could not attend school.

To boost retention, healthcare providers have adopted a number of changes over the past two years aimed at mitigating the grueling cost of working during the pandemic. These measures include greater opportunities for remote working, an option that has been facilitated by the growing use of telemedicine.

“We are not in a traditional labor market. The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced people’s decisions to leave the workforce, whether because of burnout or early retirement,” Cordeau said. “The pandemic has also changed many people’s expectations of how, when and where to work.”

Health care systems have also sought to ease the burden on employees to balance work and family obligations. Stamford Health, which includes Stamford Hospital, offers take-out dinners to all of its approximately 3,700 employees.

“At the end of a very long day, being able to pack dinner, at a very reasonable price, to take home with their families means a lot to our employees. They stop me all the time and tell me how much they appreciate it,” Kathleen Silard, CEO and President of Stamford Health, said in an interview.

“We want to help create work-life balance and ensure that when you come to work, we’ve created an environment where you feel valued and your work is meaningful.”; Twitter: @paulschott

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