In the past, and going into the 2020s at Evangelical Community Hospital, decisions continue to be made based on one primary focus: the patients. To that end, the hospital is concentrating on recruiting and retaining an engaged workforce.

“We’ve been very focused on ensuring we have an engaged workforce,” said Rachel Smith, MPA, SHRM-SCP, vice president of people and culture at Evangelical Community Hospital, in Lewisburg. “Employees can be satisfied, in that they like their job, or they can be engaged, which takes it one step further. They feel invested in going above and beyond, day to day, to make the hospital a better place.”

The hospital recently crossed the 50 percent threshold where employees meet the definition of feeling engaged.

“That’s huge to us,” Smith said.

She attributed the feeling to a number of factors, including President and CEO Kendra Aucker’s commitment to transparency and ongoing communication with employees, “excellent” department managers and the continued attitude of each employee to perform every task to the best of their ability, with an eye toward the patient’s experience.

To foster an engaged staff, the hospital listens to employee concerns. One example of that was having them involved in construction decisions of the hospital’s four-floor addition. The hospital invited employees to “play” in a mock-up of a patient room, testing everything from the height and placement of electrical outlets, to the ease of movement in the room, to the adjustment of window shades.

Frontline staff like nurses and technicians, physicians, environmental service employees and even a family advisory council made up of community volunteers all had the opportunity to explore the rooms and give their opinions.

“These are just some ways of helping to engage our staff at all levels,” said Tamara F. Persing, RN, BSN, MS, CIC, FAPIC, chief nursing officer/vice president of nursing. “For any types of initiatives we have started, we have engaged frontline people in the process.”


On the frontlines

Recruiting and retaining hospital employees is an ongoing challenge, especially when combined with nationwide shortages of nurses and paramedics. Evangelical has a history of retention of staff and even generations of families working for the hospital. Still, with the shortage of nurses, they must look at how to recruit people locally and from out of the area who want to work in a community hospital as compared to an academic hospital.

“We want people to choose us, because they have a lot of options out there,” Smith said. “We believe we have something special here. A lot of that is because we have a lot of special people in our workplace.”

The hospital employs about 1,900 people. Approximately 500 of them are nurses. Selecting, recognizing and retaining employees will be more important going into the next decade, Smith said. The hospital must continue to create a culture that attracts compassionate people who want to support the care of patients.

“Frontline staff engagement is paramount to the success of this program,” Persing said. “I always go to the nursing staff to ask questions because they know the best way to get things done.”


Engaging employees

Another way to engage and retain staff is by recognizing how much events in our society affect people. Whereas employees used to be told to leave their personal concerns at the door and focus on work, employers now recognize that people cannot simply turn a switch on their thoughts and feelings. Issues like mental health, the opioid epidemic, human trafficking, financial and physical wellness can crowd a person’s thoughts throughout the day.

“Your work world is a microcosm of what’s going on in the larger community,” Persing said.

To address that, Evangelical tries to partner with key experts in areas that concern their employees, giving them opportunities to learn about and discuss the issues that matter to them. Even something as simple as hosting monthly birthday parties and having employees share interesting facts about themselves can nurture a sense of family in the hospital.

“We’re meeting employees where they are,” Smith said. “We’re creating an environment that helps employees be their best selves here, at home and as volunteers in the community.”


Intern investment

Evangelical already has a strong high school internship program for students interested in health care. That program has proven itself as a recruiting aid, but has been made more robust with the addition of the Mae F. Keefer Nursing Scholarship which is offered to both traditional and non-traditional students, thus allowing older employees an opportunity to explore a career in nursing.

The internship program pairs interns with an Evangelical nurse and actually serves as something of a long-term interview between the intern and the hospital, allowing both to gauge their desire to work together. The hospital successfully recruited 12 interns over the past year — only one left the program because of relocating to another town.

“That is the best recruitment tool we could have used,” Persing said. “Interns can choose from different openings in the hospital to see where their passions might fit.”

The hospital has also started a one-year nursing residency program that pairs new nurses with a preceptor and guides them a novice nurse to an advanced beginner. It supports the new nurses and builds their confidence, Persing said.

“That’s really the key, helping them build that confidence,” Smith said, explaining that a nurse — or a person in another position at the hospital — might consider leaving their position if they don’t feel capable in their job. “We want them to feel supported.”

“We want them to feel they made a good choice in coming to work at Evangelical,” Persing said, and becoming part of our family.”

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