The huge demand for nursing talent has left home health providers feeling the pressure of recruitment challenges. Home health giant Encompass Health Corp. (NYSE: EHC) is no exception.
Encompass Health CEO Mark Tarr recently discussed the company’s recruitment and retention strategies for nursing staff during a presentation at the UBS Global Healthcare Virtual Conference on Tuesday.
In some markets, retaining nurses has meant implementing flexible schedules, while in others it has meant re-recruiting ones that left the field during the peak of the COVID-19 emergency.
“There’s really not one strategy or mitigating effort that works in every marketplace, but we’re utilizing everything that we have at our disposal to make sure we retain the nurses that we have and have the ability to recruit where we need to care for that volume,” Tarr said. “But it has been a little bit more distinctive on our home health side than our hospital side.”
Birmingham, Alabama-based Encompass Health delivers care in both facility- and home-based settings. It has 138 hospitals, 241 home health locations and 82 hospices in 39 states and Puerto Rico. The company currently ranks as the fourth-largest home health provider in the nation.
Broadly, the U.S. has a shortage of registered nurses. Factors such as a lack of nursing school faculty members, an increase in nurse retirement rates and the aging U.S. population continue to contribute to this shortage, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
For home health providers, the pool of available nursing talent is even smaller because nursing programs typically prioritize training clinicians for institutional settings rather than the home.
Still, Tarr believes that many of the nursing recruitment and retention challenges Encompass Health is experiencing are related to the public health emergency.
“You have nurses that have said they’re just going to sit it out until the pandemic passes before they get back in the job market,” he said. “There are certain things that we expect to normalize with time and we are seeing some of the markets starting to normalize — there was already a nursing shortage before the pandemic, this just exacerbated it.”
A bright spot for Encompass Health has been the continued improvement of its home health volumes. The company credits an acceleration in elective procedures, which coincides with the rise of COVID-19 vaccination rates.
“It’s more anecdotal at this point — our sales and marketing people are coming back and telling us they’re starting to see that the surgery schedules increase and volumes pick up,” Tarr said. “It’s elective procedures, but also the access we have now to the skilled nursing facilities.”
During the presentation, Encompass Health leaders also touched on the company’s home health virtual visit platform pilot.
“Whether it’s the virtual application or telemedicine we have looked at and continue to try varying technologies — as they help benefit our caregivers in the marketplaces and ultimately the patients,” Tarr said. “We will continue to be in the forefront of that.”
Tarr noted that technology can’t completely replace a face-to-face visit, but the goal is to complement a caregiver.
“I think that people are looking for technology to be a substitute for that hands-on approach from a caregiver to a patient, and that’s just not what we’re seeing right now,” he said. “It’s not a full substitution.”
Companies featured in this article:
Joyce Famakinwa is a Chicago area native who cut her teeth as a journalist and writer covering the worker’s compensation industry and creating branded content for tech companies and startups. When she isn’t reporting the latest in home health care news, you can find her indulging in her love of vintage clothing, books, film, live music, theatre and reality tv.