ASCs fight to recruit staff as jobless claims hit historic low

The Labor Department said May 26 that jobless claims fell to 210,000, and continuing claims remain near the lowest level since 1969, the Wall Street Journal reported May 26.

So why are so many ASCs hurting for staff?

One major contributor is the fact that Walmart, Target, Amazon and other retailers are competing with ASCs for some of the same personnel, and they're willing to pay higher wages than in previous years. Walmart raised its minimum wage for all workers to $12 per hour in September, with an average hourly wage of $16.40.

CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance have plans to boost their minimum wages to $15 per hour. Target and Amazon also have minimum wages of $15 per hour, while the national minimum wage is $7.25.

That means office staff candidates, and sometimes nurses, can receive higher pay for entry-level jobs outside of healthcare. In rural areas, the competition for workers can be especially fierce.

And then there's the competition from hospitals and health systems.

"In my area, staffing and nursing wages are very competitive," Lianne McDowell, CEO and administrator of South Portland Surgical Center in Tualatin, Ore., told Becker's in January. "I've seen a big increase in wages for nurses. There is a lack of staffing and nursing, there is a lot of competition with the hospital benefits and wages that are really skyrocketing, not just 2 percent or 3 percent, but more like 20 percent to 30 percent increases."

On average, ASCs spend $2.2 million on employee salary and wages, or about 21.3 percent of net revenue, according to VMG Health's "Multi-Specialty ASC Benchmarking Study." Pay for ASC administrators is also going up, hitting $100,000 to $119,000 on average, according to OR Manager.

"The biggest enemy [to ASCs] right now is the rising cost of everything," Amy Noble, practice administrator for the Center for Pain Control in Wyomissing, Pa., told Becker's. "From equipment to supplies to staffing, expenses continue to rise while reimbursements are stagnant."

To combat the tight labor market and attractive wages from competitors, some ASCs have started offering $5,000 sign-on bonuses for administrators. Other centers hope their flexible scheduling and culture will draw administrative and nursing candidates more than the big money offered by other employers.

Will it be enough? That answer will likely remain unclear in the near future, but one thing is certain: Something has to give.

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