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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 20, 2015 7 years ago

Call the nurse

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Lee Memorial Health System pays as much as $5,000 cash to employees for each experienced nurse they can help recruit.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Lee Memorial Health System issued this challenge to its 11,000 employees in October: Help us hire 100 nurses in 100 days.

The mission was critical because Lee Memorial forecasted a busy winter season when retirees would flock to Florida, crowding the four acute-care hospitals it operates in Lee County.

Over the years, the nation's fourth-largest public-health system concluded that the best way to find nurses and other highly skilled employees is by referrals from current employees. In fact, about one-third of new hires are referrals from colleagues who already work there, says Jon Cecil, chief human resources officer at Lee Memorial.

For the 100-nurse hiring blitz, the system doubled the reward for referring an experienced nurse to $5,000. While that may sound like a lot of money, it's less than the $10,000 to $15,000 that recruiting firms charge for finding experienced nurses for the emergency room or other specialties. “Our preference is not to use search firms,” Cecil says.

Lee Memorial rented a ballroom at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Fort Myers over several days and turned it into a recruiting party as nursing managers gathered to interview candidates and pitch them on working for the health system. Seeing other nurses applying for jobs at Lee Memorial created a sense of excitement among job prospects, says Kristy Rigot, human resources director at Lee Memorial.

To claim the money, the referral must be hired and work for Lee Memorial for six months. The referring employee earns half the reward after 90 days of a referral's employment and the second half after he or she has been employed six months.

The strategy worked: Rigot says the 100th nurse was hired on the 100th day of the hiring blitz.

Still, the hospital system is so large that it can't rely solely on hiring blitzes to fill nursing positions. It's partnered with local universities nursing programs to help train nurses in its hospitals, for example.
Another innovative program by Lee Memorial to attract nurses is using Florida's warm winter weather as a recruiting tool. Using LinkedIn and other social media, Lee Memorial recruiters travel to cold Midwest states during the winter and invite nurses there to a hotel ballroom with a postcard showing a chair on a sunny beach on one side of the card and a pile of snow on the other.

Generally, 40 to 45 nurses respond to these Midwest meet-and-greet events. “If we get one critical-care nurse from that it would pay for our trip,” Rigot says.

To make the point, recruiters always leave guests with a parting gift they'll never need in Southwest Florida: an ice scraper.

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