Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare’s Robert Bauer partners with Parallon Workforce Solutions for high-touch and high-technology staffing options

Many hospitals are relying on contingency staffing to sustain their operations through the recession and recovery. But how does a hospital efficiently manage the multiple human resources challenges that contingency staffing management brings? Robert Bauer, vice president of human resources for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare in Milwaukee, Wis., has faced this question—and found a partner with solutions.

“While the economy is recovering, we, like a lot of organizations, are not opening many permanent staff positions,” Bauer explains. “As we were looking for a more efficient use of the labor pool, we began using contingency staff around the ebbs and flows.

“It’s such a volatile industry because of healthcare regulations and healthcare reform laws, so people are utilizing hospitals differently,” he continues. “It’s not a consistent flow—so it’s hard to fill positions. From a contingency staffing side, we found numerous reasons to enter into a relationship with HealthTrust Workforce Solutions℠.”

Bauer, who has been with Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare for more than seven years, made the transition to healthcare leadership from the staffing industry, where he started as a recruiter. His responsibilities include the human resources needs of between 2,500 to 3,000 associates at three hospitals, two outpatient centers and two clinics. He not only works with the human resources team on labor and union relations, but he is also part of the hospital’s strategic planning team.

“I was successful in a recruiting role, but, while it was challenging, I was more intrigued by the associate relations side. I liked consulting with managers, helping them work with their associates and handle discipline, attendance, recognition and team building. I also liked looking to the future—not just recruiting for the day, but being more of a strategic partner. In my job now, there’s a lot more variety, and I enjoy that I don’t get many days that are the same as yesterday.”

HealthTrust Workforce Solutions℠

A One-stop Shop for Staffing Needs
HealthTrust Workforce Solutions℠ started in 1993 as a staffing resource for the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) and now, as a part of Parallon, has broadened its scope to encompass the staffing needs of any HealthTrust member. Today, it’s an industry leader in healthcare staffing management, providing unique technologies to make the staffing process more efficient. It serves hundreds of hospitals, ambulatory service facilities and outpatient centers nationwide, placing thousands of healthcare professionals each year.

Easing the Administrative and Regulatory Burden

Bauer explains that the use of contingency staff brings with it regulatory hurdles, especially if a facility manages contracts with a lot of companies.

“If you’re using 50, 60 or more vendors, that’s 50 to 60 contracts to manage,” he says. “The contingency staff need to be tracked and evaluated as regular staff. But it’s difficult to try to keep people on the same page with Joint Commission requirements, drug tests and competency evaluations when you could potentially have 50 to 60 different systems to handle those. It made sense and brought a lot of value to have a partner to help us manage those contracts.”

Parallon makes the process much easier, Bauer says, by coordinating all the staffing vendors and streamlining the process.

“I used to get two or three vendors calling every day—current vendors looking for more business, and new vendors looking to get a foot in the door. It can be administratively burdensome. Now I send those vendors to Parallon to check out.”

And when it comes to navigating regulatory challenges, Bauer recommends that facilities look at how their staffing compentencies are presently being reviewed and monitored. “It can be difficult to monitor competencies internally without a partner on the outside. The logistics of calling an agency and verifying information for 50 to 75 people—we just didn’t have the physical manpower to stay on top of it.”

Workforce Solution’s proprietary technology tools help Bauer monitor this process more carefully. “Parallon won’t place anyone within our facilities who doesn’t fit our requirements,” he says. “They also do the auditing of vendors to ensure we stay in compliance.”

Realizing Financial Advantages

Bauer says that working with one vendor to centralize staffing functions on a national scale brings definite financial advantages. “Workforce Solutions has national buying power, which means a lot more competitive pricing,” he says. “They also help us in the identification of what are fair and accurate billing rates within the region and the market.”

Because of Parallon’s breadth of knowledge of the market, Bauer is assured that he isn’t underpaying or overpaying for services. “Having much more competitive pricing evens out the playing field,” he says. “Now that we are paying costs that are similar across the board, we can focus on the quality of candidates. So not only are there financial benefits to using a staffing partner, but there’s a quality benefit, too.”

Smoothing the Transition

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare’s partnership with Workforce Solutions went live in July 2011—and Bauer was pleased with the kickoff.

“Parallon was boots on the ground from day one, traveling here multiple times for our multiple sites,” Bauer says. “They did a very good job getting ducks in a row before we got started. They checked on our competencies, reviewed job descriptions and contacted current vendors.

“From a partner perspective, it was important not to flip the switch too early,” he says. “They properly communicated to vendors and all the key stakeholders in all locations so they would understand how the process would work.”

Calming Fears of Change

Bauer acknowledged having to calm the fears of some employees who felt the new model was taking away control. “Some of the managers were afraid of losing touch with individual staffing agencies,” Bauer says. “We held a number of sessions to hear their feedback so we could phase in the system slowly.”

Bauer’s team started the transition with the hospital system’s acute care sites, then moved to the continuing care line since those associates have a closer relationship with contingency hires.

“We knew it had the potential to be a volatile change,” he admits. “The last thing we wanted was to create a lot of waves, but Parallon is an extremely accessible, flexible partner, so they were able to react quickly. When a nurse runs staffing a certain way for a certain time, she knows the vendor at the other end of the phone call. She knows she can pick up the phone and ask for certain things, so she relies on that.”

To ease the transition, Parallon invited all existing vendors to participate in the program. If those vendors didn’t want to join, Parallon would find comparable staff. “The goal was no reduction in service level,” Bauer says.

Leveraging Technology

Bauer applauds Workforce Solutions’ leadership in using the latest technology to streamline the operation of contingency staffing, but he also knows it’s important not to lose the benefits of human contact and flexibility.

“Our employees need accessibility round the clock. Sometimes staffing needs come up in the middle of the night to fill an opening in the morning,” he says.

To fill those swiftly changing needs, hospital personnel can place a staffing request by phone or by computer. Workforce Solutions provides a phone line that’s live 21 hours a day, and on-call for the other three. Bauer says some employees are comfortable with technology, while some managers want to be able to talk to someone.

“The process is a blend of high-touch and high-technology right now,” Bauer says, “but once leaders get used to the process, I think we’ll move even more to the technology side, which will further increase efficiencies.”

As a strategic partner, Workforce Solutions:

> Delivers on the cost-savings demands of budget-strapped facilities. Its contingent staffing, recruiting and enhanced productivity and scheduling technology minimize administrative and staffing costs.
> Transfers best practices, infrastructure and streamlined operations that come from its years of experience in hundreds of HCA facilities.
> Leverages economies of scale by negotiating optimal contract terms at below-market rates.
> Eliminates the need for human resource personnel to manage multiple agencies and billing processes by providing multiple services such as placement, booking, scheduling, billing and A/P management, and productivity tracking.
> Creates efficiencies that allow facilities to maximize the time spent on patient care.

The full-service, integrated business model features:

Per Diem Staffing—Comprehensive contracting services include background checks, orientation, scheduling technology and systems training. There are 11 per diem staffing offices nationwide, which have logged more than 3.3 million hours of work at pre-negotiated, below-market rates.

Travel Staffing—Customers benefit from the services of more than 900 traveling nurses and allied health professionals, while Workforce Solutions takes on all the associated administrative and logistical burdens.

Integrated Staffing and Scheduling Technology—A custom-designed, proprietary online facility scheduling system enhances efficiency, saves money, provides for the optimization of schedules and empowers hospital staff members: Its Facility Scheduler allows employees to self-schedule with no hardware to purchase or software to install. Additional software components include volume forecasting. The proprietary technology can integrate with a facility’s existing hospital management system.

Staff Scheduling Redesign and Consulting—Highly scalable, customizable technology helps managers create staffing schedules that accurately match rising and falling workloads. The technology can help your team plan, monitor and control staffing so needs and expectations are met efficiently and cost effectively.

Permanent Placement and Recruiting—Experts can provide professional staff and management-level recruiting solutions to clients in the areas of nursing, medical imaging, allied health and case management.

For more on HealthTrust Workforce Solutions℠, visit its website.

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