UMMC Hosts Career Fair to Tackle Nursing Shortage

As part of efforts to address the shortage of nurses and respiratory therapists, the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) held a walk-in job fair on Monday.

Before the pandemic, UMMC would have an average of 30 nursing positions open at a time. This number has climbed to more than 200 in recent years.

For respiratory therapy, the hospital has 30 open positions in its adult hospital and 20 to 25 openings in its pediatric unit.

During the five-hour job fair, 16 candidates showed up and 11 were offered jobs on site. All accepted their offers.

Patrice Donald, registered nurse and clinical recruitment and retention manager at UMMC, said the streamlined job fair process cut the time from interview to hire by about 42 days.

Madison’s Abigail May is one of UMMC’s recent recruits. May will graduate from UMMC nursing school on May 27 and begin her new job in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit three days later.

May said her experience at UMMC, both as a student and a patient, as well as the center’s emphasis on medical research, made her want to stay in Mississippi.

“I love helping the sickest of sick patients,” May said. “I feel like that’s definitely my calling.”

Nursing student Abigail May poses for a portrait after attending the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Nursing and Respiratory Therapy Walk-In Job Interview Event at Kathy Tower and Joe Sanderson of UMMC in Jackson, Miss. on Monday, May 16, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Mississippi has lost more than 2,000 nurses during the pandemic due to burnout or better-paying jobs in other states, often in traveling nursing. This tension is felt across the country, and the national nursing shortage is likely to worsen over time.

The aging population creates additional challenges: an older population increases the demand for health care services, while decreasing the number of practicing registered nurses as more and more people leave the workforce.

A new report from consulting firm McKinsey estimates that the United States could have between 200,000 and 450,000 fewer nurses than needed by 2025. The number of nursing school graduates entering and staying in the labor market labor would need to more than double each year until 2025 to meet this demand.

A portion of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act funding has been earmarked to address this issue, including $40 million for training nurses at colleges and universities and $6 million for cancellation. nursing student loans.

But the effects of this investment will not be felt for some time and do nothing for hospitals that need nurses immediately.

“It’s been hard to recruit to retain, when there are so many travel companies that can offer them so much more money to get out of state…I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a email or phone call. ask what my interest is,” said Gordon Gartrell, nurse manager of UMMC’s pediatric intensive care unit.

However, UMMC has a competitive advantage over other health care providers in the state, Gartrell said, because it hosts the only children’s hospital in the state.

Gordon Gartrell, RN and nurse manager, talks about the University of Mississippi Medical Center nursing and respiratory therapy walk-in job interviews at UMMC’s Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower in Jackson, Mississippi , Monday, May 16, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Nelson Weichold, chief financial officer of UMMC, addressed the shortage of nurses at a meeting of the health affairs committee of higher education institutions on Wednesday.

Labor costs for nurses increased 14% over the average revenue generated by all inpatient and outpatient services provided by UMMC, according to Weichold.

Weichold also presented data from healthcare management consulting firm Kaufman Hall & Associates that showed the dramatic increase in national average contract nurse labor costs. Before the coronavirus pandemic, pay rates for contract nurses were almost double those of salaried nurses. In March 2022, contract nurses earned nearly four times as much as salaried nurses.

Rising labor costs, coupled with rising supply costs, are “squeezing” hospitals in a way that isn’t happening in other industries, Weichold said. Airlines and fast food companies can pass these increased costs directly to consumers in ways that hospitals cannot.

“That doesn’t happen in the hospital industry because, remember, we don’t bill the customers, we bill the insurance companies,” Weichold said. “And insurance companies are very reluctant right now to raise hospital payment rates.”

This tension between hospitals and insurance companies has been on full display in Mississippi in recent months due to the intense contract dispute between UMMC and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, the largest private insurer. of State.

UMMC currently has about 3,000 nurses in its system, of which about 100 are contract workers. Weichold said UMMC plans to raise nurses’ salaries further when the hospital can wean itself off contract nurses.

Donald said that in addition to their normal nursing duties, nurses’ job descriptions include the phrase “and any other assigned duties,” an addition that has helped them stay afloat during the labor shortage. work. Nurses are often moved to different units as needed.

“We have nurses floating around everywhere,” said Tyler Fitzgerald, a nurse manager of UMMC’s transplant unit. “So we succeeded. It has been difficult at times and it remains difficult, but we are all here for the same reason.

At the IHL meeting, Weichold said the behavior of contract nurses had recently changed. While many left to work in other states at the start of the pandemic, they are now leaving a hospital job to do contract work at another hospital in the same city. According to Weichold, most UMMC nurses who leave for contract work return to the hospital within three to four months.

Fitzgerald experienced this trend first hand.

Fitzgerald said his team lost three full-time nurses during the pandemic who recently returned to UMMC.

“We have people leaving and then coming back,” Fitzgerald said. “Everyone always comes home.”

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