The COVID-19 pandemic has posed workforce challenges for essential hospitals as they struggle to combat staff burnout and boost employee morale. We spoke to Darrell K. Terry Sr., MHA, MPH, FACHE, president and CEO of association members Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, in Newark, N.J., about his recruitment and retention strategies during this unprecedented time.

Darrell Terry

Darrell K. Terry Sr., MHA, MPH, FACHE, leads Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, in Newark, N.J.

1. What, if any, hiring obstacles or challenges have you experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic?

In my opinion, the health care industry is special, and those who work in health care are uniquely called to serve. During the height of the pandemic, many within our industry reconnected with their unique calling and stepped up in heroic ways; however, there were also many who recoiled and found opportunities outside of health care. In fact, our industry is at the heart of “The Great Resignation” that is taking place across the country.

The pandemic also increased demand for nurses and respiratory therapists, and with that demand came significant opportunities for those professionals to provide travel or agency work at substantially higher pay rates. We saw many nurses and respiratory therapists take advantage of these opportunities and leave to deliver care in areas with the greatest need.

These employment shifts have a destabilizing effect on staffing at hospitals across the country, including Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, resulting in employee dissatisfaction and a lowering of morale, even as we increase compensation. We have yet to fully understand the impact these shifts will have on patient safety, quality, and patient satisfaction.

2. How have your efforts to recruit diverse candidates over the past year evolved as companies begin to address systemic racism in hiring practices?

At Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, we have always focused on recruiting, developing, and retaining diverse talent that mirrors the makeup of the communities we serve. As more companies embrace and understand the value of a diverse workforce, more opportunities arise, and hiring diverse candidates has become more competitive.

3. When reviewing your organization’s internal recruiting strategies, what findings were most surprising to you?

Candidates have many options available to them, and we have adapted our selection process to match this new environment. In the past, we would schedule candidates for multiple interviews over the course of several days or even weeks before making an offer. In today’s market, we must move quickly from application to offer, sometimes within two to three days, to ensure success. It has become necessary to streamline our hiring process and introduce a virtual platform to be competitive in hiring talent. In addition, retention has become significantly more important from a cost and continuity perspective.

4. What methods or strategies are your organizations using to retain talent?

At Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, we focus on creating an environment that encourages employee engagement at all levels within the organization. Our leaders conduct regular rounds on all units and departments across the hospital, including patient-centered rounds. We also use online recognition platforms and award ceremonies to recognize the achievements of our staff. In addition, our annual employee engagement surveys help us gauge employee engagement and discover opportunities for improvement.

5. Can you elaborate on what efforts were most successful?

Recognition and visibility continue to be critical for the success of all retention efforts. Never underestimate the relationship between an employee and their direct supervisor. By creating and sustaining the right culture, employees will find it hard to leave — why would they want to?  Don’t we all want to work in the best place and with the best leaders? Also, it is critical, particularly in health care, to reconnect staff with our mission and with their unique calling to serve.

6. What advice would you offer employers to help them stand out in the time of “The Great Resignation”?

Show up, be visible, and engage with your talent. Nothing we do can be done without our employees. They are the most critical component to ensuring we deliver safe, high-quality patient care and an excellent experience to everyone who walks through our doors. When we fail to prioritize our employees and fail to engage them, they will leave. We have found during this “Great Resignation” that employees are more empowered than ever before to leave their current employer in search of an opportunity with a more compelling value proposition.

To post a job or gain recruitment resources for your hospital, visit America’s Essential Hospitals Career Finder.