Association bridges medical staff gap

TRAVERSE CITY – There are thousands of staffing agencies across this country that call healthcare facilities every day trying to place their medical professionals.

If you are in the human resources department at one of those facilities, that can mean a lot of phone calls, and time. On the flip side, if you're a human resource professional trying to hire medical staff, the process is very time-consuming. You probably hire some people directly, but you may also need to work with several staffing agencies to fill other positions.

Then there are staffing firm personnel, looking to efficiently provide qualified workers to hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other healthcare environments.

What about a staffing association that could be the one point of contact for both the staffing firms and the healthcare employers, especially at a time when demand exceeds supply? That idea is the concept behind the American Healthcare Staffing Association (AHSA) headquartered in downtown Traverse City.

Ted Wickman started the association after several years of experience in the medical staffing industry where he saw a disconnect in the working relationships between healthcare staffing firms and employers. He figured there had to be a better way to link the two.

He started marketing the concept to hospitals and staffing agencies and slowly started building a network. The American Healthcare Staffing Association (www.ahsa.us) was chartered in June 2003 and began operations in January 2004. Traverse City is home base and currently the sole office, although Wickman is eyeing possible expansion in Portland, Ore.

The association coordinates the entire process of both contract and permanent placement and handles all the "back-end" processing, including auditing agencies, verifying licenses and certifications, and billing. The administrative work this takes off of the human resource staff at hospitals and other healthcare facilities is huge, according to Wickman, and it's a time-saver for staffing agencies, too.

"It was mind-boggling that there wasn't something like (the association) already out there," said Wickman.

He does have competition, although most are owned by hospitals and most don't handle the "back-end" tasks, he added.

Saint Mary's Health Care in Grand Rapids was one of the first to join the association, Wickman said, and after two and half years they have saved nearly $620,000 in hiring costs.

The association now has approximately 40 member hospitals in six states (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin), though three-quarters of that membership is within Michigan. Wickman said there is a concerted effort presently to build the membership and add to the current staff of 11 to support that effort.

The association membership dues just increased to $3,895 a year, Wickman said, but they serve to "complete the association model rather than subsidize the costs of doing business."

Instead, revenue is driven by fees staffing companies pay the association for every placement made by a contracted agency.

The AHSA has contracts with some 120 staffing agencies to fill various positions within health care facilities, primarily physicians, nurses, pharmacists, radiology staff, and information technology personnel.

In the local market, Munson Healthcare doesn't do much supplemental staffing, said Wickman, but it does have a need from time to time.

Sue Peters, vice-president of human resources for Munson Medical Center, said it became a member of AHSA a couple of years ago.

"Our first course is always to recruit directly," said Peters.

It has utilized the association, however, for temporary staffing situations or if they needed someone immediately and they were in the process of hiring someone permanently, she said.

As for taking "the pulse" of medical staffing needs locally, Peters said the positions that are currently the most challenging to fill are physical therapists and pharmacists.

It is a case of demand exceeding supply, Peters said. Specialized registered nurses are also challenging to hire and Wickman's association has helped find those individuals, she said. BN

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