On the mend – Virginia Business

Health care staffing improves after difficult period


September 29, 2022


MJ McAteer

Cassie Lewis, Bon Secours’ director of nursing and quality for its Hampton Roads market, says the healthcare vacancy rate fell 25% in August. Photo by Mark Rhodes

After two years of severe staffing shortages at healthcare facilities across the country, conditions at the three major hospital systems in Hampton Roads are improving.

“The past two years have been some of the toughest years for nurses of their lives,” says Cassie Lewis, Chief Nursing Officer and Quality Manager for Bon Secours Market in Hampton Roads. “Nobody has a glut of nurses,” she notes, but Bon Secours was able to hire 150 nurses in a three-month period earlier this year. By August, its vacancy rate had fallen 25% from the previous six months.

“All of my metrics are moving in the right direction,” Lewis says.

To keep metrics positive, however, hospitals, like just about every other business in America, have had to raise salaries dramatically, with merit increases, bonuses and cash rewards now an expected — even standard — part. of remuneration. In the past two years alone, for example, Sentara Healthcare claims to have invested $310 million to cover the incremental costs of attracting and retaining healthcare workers.

Much of this investment has gone into benefits. Among many improvements, Sentara now offers its nearly 30,000 workers a paid personal day, which 2,500 employees have already taken. He also set up a program that pays out up to $400 a month for student loans, with more than 3,000 employees now enrolled.

With 9,500 employees, Riverside Health System added a personal day and started a child care subsidy. It also offers money for college, a perk that has “been very well received,” says Jesse Goodrich, senior vice president of health system human resources. And at Bon Secours, which employs about 11,500 people in Virginia, paid parental leave has quadrupled from two weeks to eight weeks, and nurses have a say in the facility they work in, a change in policy which received “an extremely positive reception”. answer, Lewis said.

With Virginia hospitals losing nurses at the height of the pandemic to better-paying travel nursing jobs or less stressful private practices, competitive compensation is essential for hospitals to remain staffed — but so are The same goes for listening to employees, according to leaders.

Goodrich notes that Riverside routinely interviews employees to “find the pebbles in their shoes.” Goodrich and Lewis insist that creating a positive workplace — even more so than compensation or benefits — is what ultimately attracts and retains employees.

“Health care is about relationships,” says Goodrich, while Lewis says “money is not what a nurse is in the profession.”

In addition to staffing at the patient level, the three health systems have made some changes at the top. Most notably, in September, former Sentara Health Plans President Dennis Matheis succeeded Howard P. Kern as the new President and CEO of Sentara Healthcare. In September, Bill Downey announced he would step down as CEO at the end of 2022, with Dr. Michael Dacey, chairman and chief operating officer, succeeding Downey on January 1. Allan Parrott, former CEO of Tidewater Fleet Supply LLC, was elected. Chairman of Sentara’s Board of Directors in June. And last fall, Pat Davis-Hagens came from Bon Secours Mercy Health Jewish Hospital in Ohio to serve as president of Bon Secours Market in Hampton Roads.

Sentara’s upcoming initiatives include increased community outreach, adding community clinics to affordable housing communities; a health care bus; and a $5 million investment in 30 community organizations involved in removing barriers to health and social services.

The Riverside Behavioral Health Center emergency department is set to open in Newport News late next year, and in Williamsburg, the hospital system opened a 67,000 square foot medical office building.

The largest company in the system, however, will be the Riverside Smithfield Hospital, a project expected to cost $100 million. Construction of the 50-bed acute care hospital in Isle of Wight County is due to start this autumn, with an opening date of late 2025 or early 2026.

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