Better opportunities elsewhere help create serious shortage
By BRYAN CORLISS
EVERETT — Imagine you’re Carol Kubeldis and your job is finding workers to fill 118 new positions at Providence Medical Center’s Everett facilities and that’s a big relief — because in your last job, you had to find trained health care workers to fill 600 empty jobs, if you can imagine that.
It’s like that all around Puget Sound, and the nation as well, people doing the hiring in the health care industry say. There just aren’t enough workers, particularly nurses, to go around.
"Everyone is just struggling, nationally," said Kubeldis, whose title is recruiting manager for Providence-Everett. "It’s a great job market if you’re a registered nurse."
Right now there are 300,000 unfilled jobs for registered nurses nationwide, according to a recent Vanderbuilt University study. By 2010, the supply of trained nurses will fall 20 percent short of demand, the study projects.
The reasons are clear, local hiring managers said: Young people are choosing high-tech careers rather than health care, so there’s a drop in new workers; veteran baby-boom nurses are reaching retirement age; and mid-career nurses are leaving the field to take better-paying jobs in health care-related fields.
The problem is worse at nursing homes, said Thomas Gray, an executive with Bethany of the Northwest. "They hire them away from us because they can pay more."
But hospitals, in turn, are losing trained nurses to high-tech jobs, Kubeldis said. "We can’t offer stock options."
And the new economy is creating opportunities for trained nurses, she added. Thousands each year complete the training they need to become physician assistants or nurse practitioners — health-care workers licensed to work more independently and, in some cases, prescribe medicines.
To fill his openings, Gray said Bethany has started training its own employees with in-house classes for nurse’s aides.
Providence recruits nationally for some specialized positions, like operating-room or intensive-care nurses, Kubeldis said. For other jobs, it offers current employees bonuses for referring friends who end up getting hired — $500 for Everett jobs and up to $2,500 for some hard-to-fill Seattle slots.
But all in all, it’s probably easier to recruit nurses into jobs in Everett than it was in Seattle, her last job, Kubeldis said.
In Seattle, there are so many health care institutions competing for workers that it usually boils down to a bidding war, she said, and the deepest pocket wins.
Money’s still an issue in Everett, but there also are other factors, she said. The lack of a commute is a carrot she dangles in front of Snohomish County residents now working in Seattle.
Still, Kubeldis is going to need a whole bunch of carrots if she’s going to fill the 43 Everett openings Providence had specifically for registered nurses last week.
It’s the same in his business, Gray said.
"I can’t talk to one nursing home administrator that’s not running short," he said. "It’s not as much fun as it used to be."
At Lakevue Gardens Convalescent Center in Kirkland, executive director Matthew Lysobey has come up with an unusual way to recruit nurses: Any employee who brings a new nurse on board has a crack at winning a vacation to the island of his or her choice.
"Fiji, Bali, Aruba, Hawaii — we’ll send them anywhere," he said.
When it comes to hiring, nursing homes have always had a tough time competing with hospitals.
"Young nurses just graduating want to be in the (emergency room) or critical care. That’s what looks glamorous and exciting to them," said Ruth Craven, assistant dean at the University of Washington School of Nursing.
Lysobey is bucking more than tradition in a push to hire more registered nurses. He’s facing what some are calling the worst hiring crunch in more than three decades.
"Statewide what we’re hearing is that all long-term care facilities are having trouble finding staff — not just nurses, but any kind of staff," said Denise Gaither of the state Department of Social and Health Services.
Gaither expects the nursing shortage to be a major issue during the Legislature’s next session because the state pays the bill for about 70 percent of nursing home patients.
And nursing homes are lobbying for an increase in Medicaid payments so they can pay their employees more.
Relief can’t come soon enough for Pearl Barnes, who closed a wing in her Redmond nursing home, Cascade Vista, because she doesn’t have the staff to keep it open.
"Cascade is licensed for 139 (patients), and I’m now running 120," she said recently.
Barnes, who also owns Evergreen Vista in Kirkland, said the hiring crunch is the worst she can recall in 33 years in the business.
Although Barnes acted voluntarily in curtailing admissions, the state imposed a ban on new admissions at Eastside Medical and Rehabilitation in Bellevue because of problems attributed to a severe shortage of nursing assistants.
"We don’t have a nursing home in the state that doesn’t have a (hiring) problem," said Karen Tynes of the Washington Association of Housing and Services for the Aging.
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