Are ASC bonuses, staffing fixes 'too little, too late'?

Many surgery centers saw high staff turnover during the pandemic and are now focused on recruiting and retaining talent to stay operational.

Some ASCs were forced to lay off employees when surgeries were canceled. Other staffers quit to take care of family members or left healthcare altogether. The "Great Resignation" that followed in the last year saw even more people leave healthcare for higher paying roles as Walmart, Amazon and Target and other employers increased minimum wages and offered large bonuses.

Now, hospitals and surgery centers are using the same tactics to draw workers back. Will it work?

"Perhaps [staff] burnout was unavoidable due to nationwide supply shortages, an influx of patients and other factors, but if staff felt truly cared for and appreciated over the last two years, I don't believe we would be seeing droves of employees leaving the healthcare field," said Amy Noble, practice administrator of Center for Pain Control and Wyomissing (Pa.) Surgical Services. "Now, in 2022, they want to offer huge bonuses, and you see a shift in prioritizing the health and well-being of employees. Too little, too late."

The job market is tightening with shrinking unemployment, and the number of open positions continues to grow. Inflation has also pushed up wages in many industries and has employees asking for raises or leaving their jobs for higher paying roles. Surgery centers, tied to insurance contracts negotiated before high inflation kicked in, may not be able to keep with rising labor costs.

Some ASCs have started offering $5,000 sign-on bonuses for administrators, while others hope their flexible scheduling and culture will draw administrative and nursing candidates more than big money. Craig Gold, administrator of Virginia Center for Eye Surgery in Virginia Beach, said his center lost quite a few employees when the local hospital started offering $15,000 sign-on bonuses, but he also met some nurses who had burned out while working at the hospital throughout the pandemic and were looking for a change.

"They saw us as an opportunity" to achieve more work-life balance, he said. "So there was a big shift in the environments of care that [staff were] looking for," he said.

Mr. Gold said he thinks the labor pool will stabilize in the next year.

Phillips Kirk Labor, MD, president of LoneStar Ambulatory Surgery Center in Grapevine, Texas, said his center is cross-training employees more to provide continuity of care when turnover happens.

"Our top priority is to retain the staff we currently have by demonstrating our appreciation for our employees and by continuing to foster a positive work environment," he said.

Debra Fin, administrator of Great Lakes Bay Surgery & Endoscopy in Midland, Mich., is also working on developing a great culture at her surgery center with a changing team.

"We have been spending a great deal of time sourcing and onboarding new staff, and that now requires us to take a step back and help patient care areas integrate new team members and build relationships and trust," she said. "Getting the new staff to feel welcomed and part of the team is just as important as supporting existing staff to address change in their team members and the loss of those relationships."


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