By Joe Southern
In order to provide the best healthcare services possible, hospitals must employ the best healthcare providers possible.
That is an increasingly difficult task according to Fort Bend County hospital administrators speaking at a forum on healthcare last Wednesday at a luncheon hosted by the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce at Safari Texas Ranch.
The speakers included Joe Freudenberger, CEO of OakBend Medical Center; Greg Haralson, CEO of Memorial Hermann Sugar Land and Southwest hospitals; Chris Siebenaler, CEO of Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital; and CHI St. Luke’s Sugar Land Hospital Vice President Wes Garrison, filling in for CEO Rob Heifner.
Siebenaler brought up the issue when asked to talk about some of the challenges the local hospitals face. He started by asking the audience what they thought the average age of a nurse is in Texas. Most said 45 years.
“The average age of a nurse is 50. … We pulled the data to make sure it was accurate and the average age of a nurse in Houston is 42, it’s actually lower than I thought it was,” he said. “Think about that. The average age of a nurse providing care is 50 years old. … As we become more robust utilizers of healthcare we want the right people taking care of us. No question about that. And the expectation of people in this country … is we have a lot of options as to where we find our care and so what it boils down to is I want the right people working here.”
He said the average turnover rate for hospital nurses in the state is 22 percent annually. He said it’s 21 percent locally and 19 percent at his hospital.
“At Houston Methodist we’re pained by the fact that roughly 19 percent of our nurses turn over. … Think about that. A fifth of your nurses are turning over each year at our hospitals, which means you’re bringing in new nurses each year,” he said.
He said too often he has to replace experienced workers with newer, less experienced ones.
“There’s no substitute for experience, training and working in an environment that fosters nursing practices,” he said.
He said hospitals must compete with other medical facilities for nurses and other skilled workers.
“There are definite changes happening within our marketplace; there are more opportunities for our nurses,” he said.
Given the choice of having to be on-call 24/7 or having a weekday job and less stress is one many nurses face.
“It’s a big challenge for us,” he said.
A nursing shortage isn’t the only issues.
“We are in short supply of technologists,” he said.
He said the average age of a medical technologist in Texas is 48.
“So, when you look at it, the people we want taking care of us are older and there’s more opportunities for them in an environment that is, I hate to say, less challenging for them,” he said.
Another factor affecting the turnover rate in hospitals is generational. He said 52 percent of the employees who left Houston Methodist last year were millennials.
“What we’re finding in that process is that there are a different set of expectations of the millennials or the baby boomers or the Gen X’ers,” Siebenaler said. “From our standpoint its how do we find the best people, how do we create an environment that is the best to work in, how to we retain them long-term, how do we keep them working and how do we provide a flexible environment for these people that are going to be taking care of us?”
The other speakers agreed with him. Haralson said the staffing issue went beyond nurses and medical technicians. He said physicians are finding expanded opportunities and finding and retaining good doctors is just as great a concern.