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Where will new hospital campus find workers?

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GINA R. HEINE
April 11, 2008
— With the announcement of a proposed 50-bed hospital and emergency room in Janesville comes the question: How will officials find professionals to staff the facility?

Many health care professionals from the Janesville area commute outside the area and would prefer to work closer to home, said Mary Starmann-Harrison, CEO of SSM Health Care of Wisconsin, the parent company of St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, which will build the Janesville hospital.


As an example, SSM and Dean Health System noted Janesville resident Delinda Smith, a nurse in labor/delivery at St. Mary’s, who attended Thursday’s press conference announcing the $140 million hospital campus.


“I was excited to hear about a hospital two miles from my house,” she said.


A state-of-the-art environment, including private rooms and electronic record keeping, also will attract health care professionals, said Craig Samitt, Dean president and CEO.


Mercy Hospital officials dispute the claim that 350 jobs will be created, saying many of those positions will be job transfers from Mercy and other existing facilities because the number of patients isn’t changing.


“There won’t be as much demand here since the patients aren’t here, as well,” said Sue Ripsch, Mercy vice president for patient care. “Obviously, we will watch very closely to see what our (staffing) needs are. As people leave, we’ll see if we need to replace them.”


Hospitals across the state have reported no “significant difficulty” in recruitment and retention of professional employees this year, Wisconsin Hospital Association President Steve Brenton said.


But Brenton said Mercy officials are probably right.


“At least some of those positions (at the new hospital) will be filled by current nurses going from one organization to another organization,” he said.


That scenario has played out across the state in areas such as Green Bay and Milwaukee when new facilities open, he said.


“Our technical college system has been terrific as it relates to responding to the needs of our associations,” he said.


Dean and SSM officials have started discussions with Blackhawk Technical College to see if the college can help meet the increased need for professionals, BTC President Eric Larson said.


The Janesville area has an ample supply of nurses to staff the new hospital, he said.


“Right now, we believe we’re going to be able to supply their need without having to make any major changes,” he said.


The college is keeping up with area nursing demands, graduating about 45 to 50 nurses from its two-year program annually, he said.


“We’re going to do everything we can to be successful in bringing a new hospital online,” he said. “We have a very strong health professionals program at the college.”


While he doesn’t anticipate major enrollment or program changes in the immediate future, he said, adjustments could be made as officials know more about targeted specialties at the new facilities.


The market for nurses now is “a little tight, but not bad,” Ripsch said.


Mercy still is planning its $10 million expansion announced last month that will include a trauma center, and Ripsch said the hospital does not know yet how many jobs it will add.


Mercy plans to hire three new trauma surgeons and already has one contracted to join the staff, she said. Administrators are pleased with the caliber and number of candidates they’ve attracted for interviews, she said.


Smith, the St. Mary’s nurse, said she knows of other nurses in the Janesville area who work in Madison who she believes would consider working at the new hospital. Larson also suggested positions could be filled by health care professionals such as nurses who live here but are not working.


As is normal with a new hospital, Ripsch predicts the hospital will not start fully staffed but gradually build as its patient numbers increase.


Health care professionals will go wherever they think their patients will get the best care, said Karen Cook, a trainer with the health care consulting firm Studer Group, founded by former Mercy executive Quint Studer.


She follows the belief that competition is a good thing.


“If (the two hospitals) can be competitive, but in a collaborative manner, that’s obviously best,” she said. “In this day and age, you almost have to do that.”


It is challenging to start a hospital from scratch, but it also can be attractive to employees because the culture is created from the ground up, she said.


“That’s a draw for some people,” she said.



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