A persistent challenge at large urban hospitals is retaining frontline workers. From lab techs to nurses, these employees are invaluable to a hospital’s operation, but we have failed in offering a critical incentive to retaining and training these workers: a career path. Can investments in career path programs yield tangible bottom line results for the hospital? Can such investments yield career paths for workers who once had none? If done the right way, workforce investments can accomplish both goals.
In a recent interview, Larry Beck, president of Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore until the end of last year, and now a consultant with the hospital, told us why he is so committed to helping frontline workers at his hospital get on career paths: it’s a combination of personal history and cost control.
“My story is why I’m passionate about helping other people,” Beck says. “I started from nowhere in terms of my career in health care. It must have been 1966 when I started working in housekeeping at a hospital in Detroit. I was in high school and worked full-time in the summer and part-time during the school year. During college it was full-time because I had to pay my way through school. By the time I was a senior at Wayne State University, the president of the university said, ‘I think I can get you into a program at George Washington University in Washington, DC.’ The opportunity I was provided instilled in me the importance of helping others achieve their career goals.”
Today, Beck helps run a large urban hospital, a prominent member of the MedStar Health system. He’s married his passion for worker training and career advancement with the need to meet the system’s objectives for quality of care, patient satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and, of course, cost management. And he’s become a real advocate of an important but simple equation: investing in frontline, incumbent workers can deliver a dollar return.
Helping Beck and Good Samaritan make this happen has been the Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare, or BACH, a project supported by the National Fund for Workforce Solutions through the Baltimore Workforce Funding Collaborative. BACH is a workforce intermediary, helping a number of health care providers in Baltimore develop career tracks for jobs such as nursing, medical records specialist, and surgical tech. BACH trains current staff to be career coaches for frontline workers. The coaches provide the support and guidance necessary to move through career tracks that specify milestones for advancement and lead to pay increases.
Good Samaritan, one of the first hospitals to sign on with BACH, started with a program to help Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs, an employee category that had a very high turnover rate, build opportunities to advance. The hospital has since added career coaching and career paths for a number of other professions, including RNs, surgical techs, and, soon, medical records coders.
“These programs help fill your hot jobs, the ones you are struggling to fill,” says Beck. “It reduces turnover, which cuts down on costs including reducing your reliance on agency personnel, which is always paid at a premium. It also reduces your overtime costs. It’s been shown time and time again in the research that if you’re focusing on the individual and personal needs of your workforce they respond and you get better retention, skill set acquisition, better patient care and patient satisfaction. There is clearly a dollar return. We’ve seen it.”