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Hospitals in region using big incentives to woo nurses

January 10th, 2007 9:27 pm by Rick Wagner

You're guaranteed $10,000 and are in a drawing to win a new Mustang.

Or how'd you like to receive a free Caribbean cruise, no contest drawing required?

These are some of the inducements for local hospitals trying to hire for hard-to-fill nursing slots.

"It's been hard to fill positions we're trying to fill," said John Coker, director of human resources for Mountain States Health Alliance. "Right now we're running about 100 RNs (registered nurses) short in patient care nurses."

That's why from Nov. 15 through March 31, MSHA is offering a $10,000 sign-on bonus to every nurse who joins MSHA in a direct patient care job.

Whitney Calhoun, nurse recruiter for MSHA, said the program will be evaluated in March to determine the direction after that.

MSHA has advertised the program on television, radio and in area mall kiosks.

In addition, each of those new nurses will be put in a drawing to win a 2007 Ford Mustang.

Current nurses in direct patient care jobs will be entered to win a second 2007 Mustang, as will any MSHA employee "team member" who successfully refers someone to one of the direct patient care nursing jobs.

Those employees referring a new direct patient care nurse also will receive $2,500.

MSHA spokesman James Watson said the issue relates directly to patient care, specifically potential delays in service at all area hospitals.

"All of us suffer the problem of getting patients through," Watson said.

Not to be outdone, the competing Wellmont Health System has an incentive program in place that gives a free Caribbean cruise to any Wellmont employee who successfully refers a nurse to a "hard-to-fill" position at Wellmont, also including physical therapists.

"We do so many things. We don't exclusively rely on sign-on bonuses," said Hamlin Wilson, senior vice president of human resources for Wellmont. He said Wellmont keeps a close watch on the competitive nursing recruitment market.

Last year, Wellmont gave away a BMW in a drawing among newly hired registered nurses who filled high-demand jobs.

Wilson declined to talk about numbers of vacant nursing positions considered in high demand at Wellmont, although the online listings of job openings as of Wednesday has about 100 registered nursing jobs listed.

However, he said the recruiting programs have been successful.

"We will put up to $10,000 in sign-on bonus, more if necessary," Wilson said. "We have had tremendous success hiring nurses in the past six months."

Brandy Kisner, a registered nurse who joined Wellmont at Holston Valley Medical Center's Same Day Surgery unit in July, recently received a free Carnival cruise to the Caribbean when a friend of hers in nursing took a job in the intensive care unit at Holston Valley.

"I was just telling her how much I liked my job," said Kisner, who will take the four-day cruise and $500 in spending money this summer to celebrate her 10th anniversary with husband, Chad, an accountant.

The trip offer is for Wellmont employees who refer someone who fills a high-needs jobs in nursing or other areas. Those include working on hospital floors and in emergency departments.

"We're been very successful with our referral program with the Caribbean cruise," Wilson said of a program that has existed for more than a year. He said it probably will continue indefinitely although it might be changed to another prize someday.

He said high-need nursing positions are in the medical and surgical areas.

"Typically it's nurses on the floors and emergency department, too," Wilson said.

However, Wilson said the entire employment package includes other benefits like health insurance and money for moving expenses. And he said many nurses and other employees seek a good work atmosphere.

Both systems offer to pay moving expenses for those living outside the region.

For nurses living here, Coker said some nurses move on to management jobs or less stressful positions, and the pending retirements of the baby boom generation hit nursing like many occupations at a time when the aging baby boomers will increase the demands on health care.

To help fill the void, at Wellmont Wilson said the sign-on bonus usually is paid half at the start of employment and half six months later, which for a $10,000 bonus would be $5,000 up front and $5,000 a half year later.

At MSHA, Coker said the bonus generally is paid $7,500 up front when a high-demand nurse is hired, another $1,250 after six months, and the last $1,250 after 12 months.

Coker and Wilson said a relatively small number of nurses go from Wellmont to MSHA or vice versa.

"We don't have a whole lot going back and forth even though Wellmont is our competitor," Coker said.

Instead, both said the issue is a regional shortage.

"The schools cannot put the students out fast enough," MSHA nurse recruiter Calhoun said.

Coker said the nursing shortage is not as severe in the Tri-Cities as it is in some other areas of the country.

To help generate more nursing graduates, Wellmont has partnered with King College to open a nursing program in Kingsport, Wilson said, while MSHA offers nursing scholarships, Calhoun added.

Wilson said the area is blessed with colleges willing to help fill the demand, including a potential new nursing program at Northeast State Technical Community College.

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