No One Is Getting Any Younger

Posted by on Aug 25, 2016 in The LFT Blog | Comments Off on No One Is Getting Any Younger

I had my gallbladder removed last week. Don’t worry, I’m not looking for sympathy. Rather, it turned out to one of the best opportunities for customer research that a person in my job could ever experience. So I thought I would share the story.

I went into the ED of a community hospital on a Sunday night and came out of the system’s anchor urban medical center on Wednesday around noon. In between, I met the ambulance people, two ED doctors, two ED nurse practitioners, four ED RNs, two ED technicians, the CAT scan tech, two hospitalists, four med/surg RNs, five nursing assistants, the night shift radiology manager, three surgeons, two anesthesiologists, one neurologist, one gastroenterologist, one physician assistant, too many residents to count, four transport people, two cleaning people, and the head of quality. It really was a very impressive group of talented people who take pride in what they do. And pretty much every single individual did their job well from my vantage point.

Since it is what I do for a living, I asked all of them (and I’m not kidding) about their backgrounds, how long they have worked at the hospital, and what their future plans are. To the hospital system’s credit, it was an incredibly positive environment. Anyone who had been there more than a couple of years loved their jobs, their teams, and the organizational leadership. And, as I mentioned, they were very talented.

But here’s the problem. A significant percentage of them are planning to retire. Obviously not the residents and nursing assistants. But the gastroenterologist is retiring. The two ED physicians are near the end of their careers. A number of the nurses. Even the transport guy who was highly entertaining but now in his seventies and has been at the hospital for over twenty years. So the data that we all have been looking at regarding the looming shortage of talent in hospitals was evident in my little gallbladder adventure. The process for me was almost seamless. But what happens when all those smart people with ten, twenty or more years of experience have set off for golf course communities in Florida? It’s probably terrific for LFT’s interim staffing business, but it makes me less excited to be a patient a few years from now. It frightens me if I am a hospital leader.

I’ve said this before, and I suspect I will keep saying it for years to come. The healthcare business is a human capital business. You can have all the best technology in the world and all the best procedures for safety, quality, and so on, but if you don’t have people who are experienced at using the technology and properly implementing the procedures, then you don’t have anything. The last time I had been to a hospital ER was last August when I had to take a groomsman from my son’s wedding there. They clearly were lacking in their staff, and it was a scary place. Not a place I would want to go to again. Human capital – who and how we hire, how we develop and train people, how we create clear and realistic advancement opportunities for people – needs to become a priority. Why does the “people process” in hospitals – so many silos, such unwillingness to reach outside for talented people to groom – need to be so very different from other large organizations like Fidelity or General Mills or Google?

My fear is that the typical current approach to human capital by healthcare providers isn’t going to work in the world that will soon be here. Position vacancy rates are already too high, and they are only going to get higher. I suspect this will be the greatest challenge that hospitals will face in coming years. We need to be both proactive and creative in building a solution. We just can’t keep kicking the problem down the road.

As always, call if you need help. We have some exciting and creative solutions in the works.

Bill Haylon

P.S. We are planning to launch a new web-based product to help the healthcare community more quickly and more cost effectively match potential candidates and employers, and we are looking to do a number of focus groups in the Boston area as we finalize the product. If anyone is interested in participating, please let us know. Many thanks.