The grass is greener in Thomasville, GA

Archbold Medical Center beats national average in most areas

Archbold Medical Center in Thomasville, GA, is 35 miles north of Tallahassee, FL. That means that it not only competes for employees with a much bigger market, but it also has to sell potential staff on living and working in a fairly rural area. But so far, so good. The vacancy rates for almost every single potentially problematic job are lower than the national average. In fact, the 264-bed facility and its four much smaller sister facilities in the area just received a best practice award for its recruitment and retention programs from the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA — a sub-body of the American Hospital Association).

The numbers are impressive. For RNs in general, there is a 6% vacancy rate compared to a 9.9% national average. In critical care, the facility has no vacancies, compared to an 11.6% national average. Radiology technicians, an area of growing concern for many hospitals, have a national vacancy rate of 11.5%, but it’s only 2% at Archbold. Medical technologists have only a 2.9% vacancy rate at the medical center, compared to 6% nationally. There are no respiratory therapist vacancies at Archbold, compared to a national vacancy rate of 9.1%.

In fact, the only area where it does have a problem is in pharmacy, where the national average is 8.4%, but it’s 11.3% at Archbold, and even that can be misleading as there are only three vacancies, for two fulltime and one part-time position, says Zach Wheeler, vice president of Human Resources at Archbold. "With some positions, like pharmacy, you have to compete at the state, regional, or even the national level," he says. "You want people who will come and like small town life and stay, so it takes us longer to recruit for those positions than it might take a more urban facility."

Not that they are taking the situation lying down. Archbold is currently working with the Georgia Hospital Association and the University of Georgia to create a satellite pharmacy program.

Planning ahead

It can take a while for such programs to come to fruition, Wheeler explains, noting that a nursing program they developed with Southwestern Georgia Technical College took five years to get going. "These things don’t happen overnight or without funding," he says.

Indeed, a lot of what Archbold does involves taking a much longer-term view. "To survive as a big hospital in a small town, we know we have to grow our own staff," he says, "whether that means getting them interested in elementary school or working with people who are interested in changing careers."

To get kids interested, the hospital sends people in to talk about health care careers, but rather than lecture to a room full of wriggling kids, they take equipment and do tactile things that piques the interest of young minds. For instance, they bring chemicals that show how well someone has washed his or her hands. For younger children there is a coloring book about health care jobs.

For the second-career crowd, there is a health care career night at the hospital, Wheeler says. Each department has a booth, and some also open up for tours. Imaging, for instance, will allow people to look at CAT scanners. Attendees can find out about a profession, the hours worked, and the kind of tasks involved. At the same time, there are representatives from local schools so they can find out about prerequisites, costs, how to enroll, and what financial aid is available. At the last fair, people from four counties attended.

The hospital also has held a scholarship seminar, which attracted about 70 people, and a program called So You Want To Be a Nurse. In that program, schools, the hospital, and financial aid folks all work together to give a lecture-type seminar that explains what it takes to be a nurse. Nurses also come to speak to the audience.

"We had one guy who was 57 come to one of the programs. He’s an LPN now," he says. Another attendee was a man who started out in the dietary department who always wanted to be a nurse. He’s an RN now. "They both went through our programs," says Wheeler.

For a small town, the scholarship program the hospital runs is large. There are some 130 people enrolled now, about 80% of them in nursing.

Having schools and scholarship programs locally is probably one of the reasons vacancy rates are low for nursing at Archbold. "We only have about 40,000 people in the county, but when you see what kind of training programs we have, it’s kind of unbelievable," says Wheeler. There are two RN programs, and a medical technician program that is a joint venture between a local private university, the local technical college, and Archbold. In the latter, students start at the technical college for lab and training, then all their credits transfer to Thomas University for the BS program. Along with the nursing and medical technician programs, Archbold has helped to set up a cardiovascular technician program, too.

"I suppose that’s a real lesson," he says. "Know and use the assets you have in your community.

Getting people into health care is one thing. Once there, Wheeler says, you have to work to keep them. "We are a little better than average on turnover, and I think a lot of that is just being fair," he says. "You have to pay within the market so pay is not a point of dissatisfaction. And you have to have good benefits. There is never any one thing that keeps them here. We have a good community and a good hospital. The focus is on care, not the bottom line."


• Zach Wheeler, Vice President of Human Resources, Archbold Medical Center, P.O. Box 1018, Thomasville, GA 31799. Telephone: (229) 228-2745.