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Creative Recruitment Strategies

Lately, it seems like hospitals are scrambling to fill a growing number of vacancies. But several California facilities have used their creative imaginations to develop innovative ways not only to attract potential employees, but also to keep current staff happy so they'll want to stay.

Recruitment the San Jose Way
After communicating to the public that it would be closing and relocating in about 4 years, the neighborhood began treating San Jose Medical Center (SJMC) as if it already had shut its doors. But the hospital is still alive and well, searching for employees just like many other facilities.

Matt Gerrior, RN, chief operating officer-chief nursing officer, credits the assistant administrator for public affairs, Leslie Kelsay, with the recruitment idea that was "either going to get her fired or promoted." The idea was not only to promote nurse recruitment, but also to call positive attention to the hospital.

Kelsay believed that if the hospital could get employees to have their cars vinyl-wrapped, they would serve as moving advertisements and gain the exposure the hospital needed. The wrap's design enhanced the campaign's success. Bright colors, swirling designs, flowery artwork and clever phrases adorned each of the wrapped cars. The cars screamed sentiments such as, "If your job ain't rocking, opportunity is knocking;" "My other car is an ER gurney;" and "I My Job." The license plate holder read, "I'd rather be rocking at SJMC."

Although there were many more volunteers, only 12 cars could be wrapped in the pilot program. They were chosen specifically for the distance and direction driven each day.

At the start of the campaign, it was anticipated that if cars were driven about 250 miles per week, they would garner between 50 million and 52 million exposures in a 6-month period. The San Jose volunteers did not drive quite the 250 miles, but, according to Kelsay, they calculated that they did achieve approximately 40 million impressions. The toll-free number, which appeared on the cars, generated 12 to 15 calls per week to the hotline. The cars also inspired countless conversations at stop lights, gas stations and parking lots.

Campaign Specifics
The drivers were trained in the basics of the human resource package being offered to candidates, Kelsay said. This included a $7,500 sign-on bonus as well as relocation expenses. But Kelsay knew that flashy cars would not be the only key to success.

"I don't think wrapped cars alone create recruitment," she noted. "You need to have something to back it up, including nurse managers who will do an immediate interview with a candidate as soon as the nurse walks in."

The campaign helped to hire two RNs and two CNAs, but it also generated interest in other ancillary positions as well. In fact, the sign-on bonus was not only for RNs, but respiratory therapists as well.

This project drew a tremendous amount of attention to the hospital as well as to healthcare positions, commented Gerrior, who volunteered to have his BMW SUV wrapped. "We had the opportunity to be ambassadors for not only the hospital, but for all of health care," he added.

The campaign also earned the hospital television and radio news coverage with an equivalent advertising value of $35,000 to $45,000.

Home Free in Riverside
Riverside Community Hospital took a different approach with its recruitment efforts. Real estate in Southern California can be quite pricey, and the hospital saw this as an opportunity to showcase its relatively affordable surroundings. Positioned in western Riverside County, CEO Jaime Wesolowski saw the chance to offer housing at a lower price than what can be found in Los Angeles and Orange counties and to package this into a recruitment incentive. The hope was to entice nurses to come to work at Riverside, said Ann Matich, vice president for marketing. And it seems to be working.

Dream Job, Dream House
The campaign, named "Dream Job, Dream House," refers to the prospect of purchasing a home for which the hospital would pay the closing costs (up to $12,000) in exchange for a 2-year commitment to work at the hospital.

The hospital works with Riverside County's Credit Union, which in turn works with realtors and escrow companies that discount their services. These services go toward the savings of purchasing a home for the buyer, explained Paul Woerz, vice president for human resources.

Word about the campaign was spread through brochures sent to nurses in Southern California, inviting them to attend job fairs to receive more information about the hospital. At the fairs, nurses were encouraged to enter a raffle to win the down payment on a house, which will be selected at the end of the year. Billboards also were constructed as an attempt to reach those who commute long distances to work.

As of the writing of this article, Riverside had received more than 500 entries as a result of the campaign, and 96 nurses have been hired, almost reaching the campaign goal - 100 nurses by the end of May. According to Woerz, the campaign will run until the positions are filled and the hospital's needs are met.

No House, No Problem
Riverside also accommodates nurses interested in working at the hospital, but who do not need a home. For example, Woerz explained, if nurses do not need homes, they can sign on for 3 years and receive a $10,000 bonus. If they sign on for 1 year, they will receive a $5,000 bonus. The goal is to provide assistance to interested nurses in any way possible.

Condos for Cottage
The rising cost of housing also has prompted Cottage Health System in Santa Barbara to find alternatives to attract and retain employees. The Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Foundation acquired the property of St. Francis Medical Center, which closed in June 2003. As a result of the acquisition, the health system plans to develop a 115-unit condominium project in which 70% of the units will be affordable for Cottage Health System employees, according to Santa Barbara's affordability guidelines. Approvals for this project are still in the works, and the hope is they will be awarded by the end of this year or the beginning of next, said Ron Biscaro, vice president of housing and development for Cottage.

Considering that recent figures state that the median price of a home in Santa Barbara is $950,000, Biscaro said, "We are looking to this project to help the retention of our key workforce and on a long-term basis help with recruitment."

The prices of the condos, which will vary based on income, have yet to be determined. Biscaro said they will work closely with the city on qualifying people for the units. Prices will be discounted well below the market value, he added.

"We have a critical issue in this area, and that is [the prices of homes] are making it difficult to both recruit and retain key people," Biscaro noted. "People ultimately want to buy a home and this has become increasingly difficult in the last 5 to 6 years."

If all goes according to plan, construction would begin sometime in 2005.

O'Connor's Strategy
While recruiting has consumed much time and energy because of the nursing shortage, hospitals must not forget that retention is equally important. Administrators at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose knew they couldn't attract new employees without recognizing employees who have been dedicated to the hospital for many years.

Anne Goldfisher, senior vice president, chief operating office and chief nursing officer, reported that the hospital is working with a group called H*Works from The Advisory Board Company in Washington, D.C. According to Goldfisher, the Healthcare Advisory Board helps health care facilities implement best practices. The H*Works subdivision specifically addresses reducing the cost of premium health care. O'Connor Hospital is working with H*Works to find ways to fill open positions. The discussions led to the project that O'Connor dubbed the 100-day campaign: "Special People, Special Place," which has a goal of filling 100 jobs in 100 days.

"We needed a theme that acknowledges the significant value of employees who we have and build on the concept that this is a great place to work," Goldfisher explained. "We aren't just trying to hire and bring in new people, but engage people in a career-long relationship with us."

As of late April, O'Connor Hospital was 35 days into the 100-day campaign and has filled 52 of the 100 positions. The hospital chose to use many different resources to bring in potential employees with the objective of creating and maintaining a culture of service excellence. For example, career fairs were held on three different dates earlier this year with the last one on June 2. On-the-spot interviews were held - many as referrals from current employees, Goldfisher said. At the first fair, 500 people attended and 17 job seekers were hired on the spot.

The hospital also took advantage of the local media by launching a "multi-media blitz," scheduled to run for 3 months and including radio, TV and direct mailing advertisements. Employees, referred to as "associates" at O'Connor, were featured in these ads inviting interested individuals to the hospital.

O'Connor Hospital also is proud of how it has shown appreciation for its employees. For example, a luncheon was held for all who have worked at the hospital 5 years or longer. They were served by the administration as a special way to acknowledge each person. In turn, the employees have given the hospital valuable input as to what is important to them - such as health care benefits. Discussions have led to improvements in policy and mutual respect.

Have Fun
Although drafting creative recruitment strategies may be difficult, these hospitals have proved that thinking outside of the box is worthwhile. Gaining enjoyment out of the process is very important as well.

"The whole project was so much fun," Kelsay said of SJMC's wrapped cars. "I never underestimate the importance of fun." 

Stephanie De Ritis is on staff  at ADVANCE. Reach her at

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