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Hospital President Sparks Groundbreaking Recruiting Campaign

May 2, 2003
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Related Topics: Retention, Recruitment, Staffing Management
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On a Friday afternoon last June, St. Bernardine Medical Center presidentSteven Barron gave the order: 100 nurses in 100 days. It was six months untilthe busy flu season, St. Bernardine had been growing rapidly, and nurses were inshort supply. Although Barron says they needed more than 100, he stuck with thatnumber because the goal was clear-cut and maybe even achievable, considering theacute nursing shortage in California.

    Barron met that afternoon with chief nurse executive Laurie Rogers-Eberst,employment manager Jean Close, vice president of business development andplanning Jaynie Boren, and vice president of marketing Kimberly HillhouseVandenBosch. They recall clearly their first thought after leaving Barron’soffice: Work together.

    "It was a real ‘best practices’ kind of thing," says Boren. "We satdown and worked through how we could combine our resources and expertise in thebest possible way." The quest for nurses would be more than a standardrecruitment campaign. It would re-brand the hospital, putting it back on thecommunity’s radar screens.

Not HR-centric
    For the first time in recent history, St. Bernardine’s recruiting would notbe handled exclusively by human resources. Barron says the hospital asked itsparent company, Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), if it could forgo that route andintegrate marketing and nursing into the recruitment process. "CHW generallywants you to use the company [HR] approach, but we had a better idea and theylet us go with it," says Barron. "It cost more, but it was much moreeffective than other recruitment campaigns." In fact, it was a stunningsuccess--in 89 days the hospital had reached its goal. By the time the 100th dayrolled around, 124 nurses had been hired.

    Veering away from the corporate recipe for recruitment was a big step for CHW,which owns 42 hospitals across three western states. St. Bernardine is thelargest hospital in the so-called Inland Empire, which includes the counties ofSan Bernardino and Riverside, southeast of Los Angeles. Barron--who at 27 wasalready a hospital president at St. Luke’s in Spokane, Washington--has workedin administration for 23 years, the last three at St. Bernardine. He sayshospitals usually divide up the way they advertise, with marketing andrecruiting separate. When they want to market their hospital services, they runads for that. When they want to find employees, they run "image ads" withphotos of hospital buildings or equipment, followed by classified ads foremployees in newspapers and trade magazines.

    "Hospitals spend a lot of money on this kind of advertising and it isn’tvery effective, so this time we combined all three goals--image, product line,and recruitment--into one campaign," says Barron. "Rather than creating animage around a building or a piece of high-tech equipment, we wanted to build itaround our people."

    To that end, says Boren--the business-development veep--the team felt itwould be most effective to use St. Bernardine’s own employees in the ads,photographed outside their nursing jobs. "We did some research and found thatnurses were tired of seeing the same pictures of scrubs and stethoscopes," shesays. "They know what they look like. But to see their counterparts livinglife and achieving balance--that really brought it home to them."

Money isn’t the answer
   Hospital president Barron chose not touse promises of high-paying jobs to recruit employees. He wanted to avoid aprice war with competitors. The goal was to attract employees by being a betteremployer and having a more attractive work environment. "Just paying the mostisn’t going to keep employees," he says. "The money was better investedthis way."

    The campaign boiled down to the slogan "We Live Life and Save Life EveryDay," and 15 employees--half of them nurses--were photographed enjoyingactivities outside work: skiing, fixing cars, biking, dancing. Huge bannersdepicting these employees were hung around the hospital and in the parking lot;a calendar was also created.

    In addition to those 15 employees, eight more were used in ongoing localradio spots called Medical Minutes. These employees hail from variousspecialties and give advice and information about specific health problems. Atthe end of the spot, a phone number is provided where listeners can get moreinformation or schedule an appointment.

    Rogers-Eberst says Medical Minutes came about after employees who weren’tpart of the campaign came to her and asked to get involved. "Our employeesowned this campaign, and they were excited about it," she says.

    That excitement among staff boosted morale and increased retention, bothsecondary goals of the campaign. "This integration with marketing, nursing,and HR has been a huge success," says Rogers-Eberst. "We take the bannersand calendars to job fairs and specialty conferences and get a great response."Inquiries from those interested in applying for jobs with the hospital are up 31percent since the program got under way.

Beating the competition
    Turnover for nurses, which stands nationally at 20 percent,is down to between 16 and 18 percent at St. Bernardine. Before the campaign itwas 20 to 22 percent, says Rogers-Eberst.

    Steven Barron was pleased by the results, but not surprised. He had decidedwhen he came here three years ago that to gain market share, the hospital wouldhave to use its strategic advantage in HR. "The hospital that hired enoughtrained, motivated staff would be the one to gain market share," he says. "Luckily,our competitors haven’t been able to do it as successfully as we have."

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