Beware recruiters who capitalize on staff fears

They try to hire your therapists

If changes in your program make your staff fearful or unhappy, expect to contend with outside recruiters who will try to persuade them to take jobs in other hospitals or health care settings. As soon as Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana (RHI) informed its staff that professional staffing ratios would change, outside recruiters started contacting its therapists and offering them jobs. Some even guaranteed that the therapists would not have to work with a therapy tech in their new positions.

"The recruiters knew what buttons to push. They made guarantees that were hard to fight because we were committed to our change process," explains Donna Cameron, chief executive officer of the Indianapolis hospital.

In the early stages of the hospital's massive re-engineering project that included the staffing mix changes, several occupational therapists were recruited to the same organization, she says. "We lost some very good people. A few have come back."

The key to coping with outside recruiters is to communicate with your staff. Try to persuade them to stay and see how the changes work out, rather than reacting and leaving quickly, Cameron says. "There is always going to be an outside entity that tries to capitalize on staff adjustment to a major change. Outside recruiters will become very aggressive with a staff that is going through a change."

Communicate to ease pain of change

Emotion and lack of information is a bad combination, Cameron asserts. For any change in your hospital's way of doing business to succeed, you have to communicate frequently with staff and ask for their feedback. At RHI, hospital managers established a preceptor group with a representative from each therapy discipline. The preceptors worked with the clinical educator to develop and revise the training and competency programs for the newly created position of rehab techs.

The preceptors went back to their disciplines and shared information in staff meetings, facilitating the exchange of ideas among multiple groups of staff during the process. The hospital held special meetings to discuss the changes and made the new staffing patterns a topic at regular staff meetings.

"We tried to promote to the therapist that the techs were not taking over their duties. Instead, they were becoming an extension to help the therapist meet more patient needs," Cameron says.

In today's health care environment, therapists can't do everything for everyone. But if they utilize assistants and techs effectively, they can accomplish more for more patients, she adds.