Just how bad is the nursing shortage? The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects demand for more than 1 million new health professionals between now and 2014.
But the Central Florida Health Alliance (CFHA), made up of Leesburg Regional Medical Center and The Villages Regional Hospital, both in central Florida, isn’t feeling the pinch. After a five-year effort to recruit and retain health care staff over age 50, the facility boasts vacancy rates of just 5 percent, a turnover rate for registered nurses of 9 percent, and an overall turnover rate of less than 15 percent.
The benefits of a stable, experienced staff are clear. An older work force, in the heart of retirement country, “matches our patient population,” explains Darlene Stone, the medical center’s vice president of human resources. “Plus, we value their work ethic. They are reliable, committed, loyal and methodical, which is especially important in health care because it results in fewer errors.”
Since the decision five years ago to boost retention and recruitment of older employees, as CFHA was opening a new hospital that needed to be staffed, it has increased the percentage of employees over 50 from 33 percent to 42 percent. As Stone says, “We’ve never looked back. From the CEO on down, there is a commitment to showing more mature workers how much we value them and what an important role they play in our health care system.”
Perhaps the most important benefit to attracting older employees, Stone says, is flexibility. Central Florida Health Alliance offers a range of flexible work options, including five different shifts, from as few as four hours to as many as 12 hours each, plus a wide range of part-time and seasonal schedules. Some employees have summers off. Others who travel north in the summer work during the fall and winter at the center.
“If we don’t have an option that meets our nurses’ needs, we’ll create one,” Stone says. “That’s how important experienced workers are to meeting our needs.”
Such flexibility has paid off for nurses like Becky Tarr, 54, who began her career in 1975. In recent years, Tarr went back to school to get a degree in accounting. She now serves as administrative director of the medical center’s revenue cycle, a position CFHA created for her.
“I feel strongly about patient care as well as the fiscal responsibility of health care providers. Central Florida Health Alliance gives me the opportunity to see that both are realities,” she says. And there’s little doubt about Tarr’s commitment: She commutes 86 miles each way four days a week.
In addition, the medical center provides a range of support programs for its employees, including child care, nurse refresher courses, critical care and emergency room internships for nurses who want a new challenge, and a grant program for existing staff members who want to continue their education and commit to working at the center for two years.
Bernie McDonald, 53, is administrative director of peri-operative services. A nurse for 33 years, she’s been at CFHA for the past 16. Her 3-year-old grandson Zachary is enrolled in the hospital’s child care center. “It’s an extension of the hospital,” McDonald says, “and provides quality care that’s on-site, which is a huge help to me and my family.”
Central Florida Health Alliance has been named one of AARP’s best employers for people over 50 for the past two years, and has received a Working Families award from the Orlando Sentinel every year since 2000. In 2005 and 2006, CFHA was No. 1 on the list.
For more information, contact Darlene Stone, email@example.com, (352) 323-5362.