Healthcare staffing execs weigh in on growth, crisis bill rates, consolidation and more

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November 05, 2021

The healthcare staffing industry is booming, with growth in all segments and more consolidation of industry players appears likely. Crisis bill rates are an issue.

Top executives from four large healthcare staffing firms — Aya Healthcare, CompHealth Locum Tenens, Jackson Healthcare and Medical Solutions — discussed these topics and others on Thursday during a keynote panel at Staffing Industry Analysts Healthcare Staffing Summit in Boston.

Here are some of panelists’ comments:

Recruiting

Shortages of clinicians existed before the pandemic but the pandemic has brought changes.

  • “I think a lot of the folks in the audience have had banner years and recruiting has not been the limiting factor,” said panelist Alan Braynin, CEO/president, Aya Healthcare. “It’s been infrastructure, internal processes and internal hiring. It’s forcing folks to rethink about how their business operates.”
  • “When you’re paying a nurse $150 an hour it’s a lot easier to recruit them,” said panelist Shane Jackson, president, Jackson Healthcare. However, the industry remains supply constrained and some of the dynamics behind that are temporary and others are not, Jackson said. On another hand, the idea of working as a contractor has become more attractive to clinicians today; firms are not having to sell them on the concept.
  • “The amount of demand is one of the challenges right now,” said panelist Lisa Grabl, president, CompHealth Locum Tenens. Physicians understand that demand and the number of opportunities available.

Bill rates

High bill rates are causing some client groups to speak up. The American Hospital Association and the California Hospital Association have both asked government regulators to look into bill rates for travel nurses.

  • Braynin noted at the start of the pandemic crisis, bill rates were a situation in only a few geographies and skill segments. Now the situation is national. Some hospital systems were advised to raise rates to attract clinicians and then FEMA and CARES money came in, which hospitals used to compete with one another.
  • “It’s a supply and demand issue,” Jackson said, adding there are a number of factors driving rates and the industry is becoming the scapegoat. Crisis rates went to levels of up to $150 per hour in New York as of late from $80 to $85 per hour in April 2020. “This is not sustainable and if we do not become part of the solution for rationalizing rates in the nurse industry, the government or lawsuits or somebody’s going to do it for us,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to be a part of helping guide our customers back down the market curve as it changes just like we were as it was going up.”
  • Panelist Craig Meier, CEO, Medical Solutions, also said the industry needs to work to handle the situation. He noted staffing had a reputation in the past as being a “necessary evil” for hospitals and crisis rates are causing perceptions to take step back.

Remote work

Staffing firms are taking different paths when it comes to remote work.

  • Grabl noted her firm took a phased approach when it came to returning to the office and announced a vaccination policy about four weeks ago. “Any vaccinated person can come into the office anytime they choose; they can travel on behalf of the company,” Grabl said. “But those who are not vaccinated, there’s no risk to their employment, but they will remain a full-time work at home person whether that’s what they’ve chosen prior or not.”
  • Jackson said his firm still has people working remotely but started asking a majority of internal employees to return to the office at least two days per week in June 2020. The pandemic lockdowns drove home the value of in-person interaction and the limitations of virtual work

What will happen in 10 years?

Consolidation and the metaverse figure into the future of healthcare staffing.

  • Meier said the industry will see consolidation while Grabl forecast healthcare staffing will be dealing with new challenges — as well as plenty of opportunities.
  • Braynin also cited more consolidation along with the likelihood the Healthcare Staffing Summit conference in a decade may be held in the metaverse.
  • Jackson forecast there will be a different customer mix as more care is moved out of hospital settings.

The panel was led by Staffing Industry Analysts President Barry Asin. The conference concluded today.

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