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Mayo Clinic to hire associate-degree nurses as retirements increase

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The health organization considered to be the best hospital in the United States — by U.S. News & World Report — is struggling to recruit bedside health providers.

About 2,000 Mayo Clinic employees nationwide, out of approximately 56,000 staff, are expected to retire by the end of 2014.

Nurses at Mayo in Rochester, in particular, are in short supply.

"As you know, we have been experiencing unanticipated recruiting and hiring needs across the Department of Nursing," Pamela Johnson, chairwoman of that Mayo-Rochester department, wrote in a communication to clinic nursing staff. A copy of that missive was obtained by the Post-Bulletin last week.

Johnson said unexpected openings for several positions in nursing, patient-care assistance, health-unit coordination, technician work "and other assistive personnel" is "in great part" the reason for Mayo's trouble keeping up with the shortage.

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Factors worsening the nursing shortage are demand for new nursing roles created by Mayo's changing model of health care, internal transfers to new positions and growing interest in training programs, such as those leading to the title of certified registered nurse anesthetist and nurse practitioner.

But another reason is the large number of retirements, likely related to retirement-benefit changes that start Jan. 1.

"A number of our staff have made the decision and announced their intent to retire this year," Johnson said.

The problem is severe enough that Johnson has asked nursing departments throughout Mayo to take a hard look at whether some meetings — in the short term — can be eliminated or delayed to free up staff for patient care, at least until the first quarter of 2015.They could use creative alternatives to share information and communicate, she said.

"While we know that this might be disappointing, we ask for your support for this short-term strategy," Johnson said.

Mayo has also begun accepting applications from nurses with two-year associate's degrees instead of four-year bachelor's degrees.But newly hired associate-degree nurses will be expected to complete their baccalaureate degree within five years of hire.

Retirement changes effective Jan. 1.

The situation comes to light five years after Mayo announced that it planned several changes to its retirement benefits program that would all become effective by Jan. 1, 2015.

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In 2009, Mayo's chief human-resources officer at the time told the Post-Bulletin that, starting in 2015, Mayo would begin calculating retirement investments based on a "career-pay" formula instead of a "final-average-pay" formula. That was intended to avoid market volatility.

The idea was that Mayo's new approach will allow the clinic to invest based on employees' actual earnings instead of estimated earnings.The goal was to infuse long-term sustainability into the clinic's employee-retirement and benefits plan.

That remains true today.

"Mayo Clinic has made changes to our benefit plan to maintain a competitive benefits packages that will ensure Mayo's long-term sustainability so we can continue to offer world-class benefits to our employees," said David J. Schuitema, director of Benefits and Allied Health Compensation for Mayo Clinic Human Resources.

Schuitema said as of Jan. 1, "employee-pension benefits will be calculated using an annual-accumulation formula."

"Pension benefits accrued until that time will be calculated under the current final-average pay formula and will be frozen as of Dec. 31, 2014," he said. "Mayo will add employer match to the 401(k) and 403 (b) plans."

That last point — employer match — is something Mayo indicated in 2009 that clinic employees had asked to have added to their benefits program.

Changed atmosphere

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The retirements and their ramifications have led to a changed atmosphere, many nurses say.

"All these factors have resulted in an extraordinary effort on your part to creatively address our inpatient and ambulatory staffing needs," Johnson told her staff. "We know this is not sustainable."

Nurses have brought their concerns about "patient needs and our hiring needs" to nursing supervisors, she said, and "we hear you."

Johnson assured staff that "robust hiring" of nurses will continue to offset retirements and other issues that feed the recruitment problem.

"When we make changes to our benefits package, we typically see an increase in retirees,"Schuitema said. "One percent of our employees retire in a given year. When we make changes to the benefits package, that number typically doubles."

Mayo declined to state how many employees it expects to have on staff at the end of 2014. The last estimate publicly stated indicated approximately 34,200 people work at Mayo Clinic-Rochester.

Retirements double

Nationally,"in 2010, we experienced approximately 1,000 retirements overall," Schuitema said. "In 2014 we expect approximately 2,000, which is within our planning models.

"Our retirement rate will continue to increase as Mayo Clinic grew significantly during the 1980s and those hires are reaching normal retirement ages, and prepare to leave the workforce," he said. "We see our trend of retirements increasing from 1 percent to around 2 percent as this natural trend progresses."

In its 2014 Annual Report, Mayo indicated it has "nearly 60,000" employees nationwide. If 2,000 indeed retire out of that 60,000, retirements actually equate to about 3.3 percent — even higher than the clinic estimates.

Increasingly, according to Johnson, Mayo will be looking toward external hires to fill open nursing slots.

The struggle to recruit goes beyond the field of nursing. "In the years ahead we will see challenges to recruit for patient-care roles such as physicians, advanced-level practitioners, nurses and administrative roles that involve health-care technology such as clinical informatics," Schuitema said.

However, he said, "because of our ability to engage, develop and retain existing employees, Mayo clinic is well-positioned."

Mayo's growth to 1.2 million unique patients nationwide in 2013 — and likely more than that number in 2014 — is not because of the Affordable Care Act, Schuitema said. Rather, "patient numbers are within plan" for 2014.

Job growth to continue

What does all of this mean for Mayo job growth in Rochester — where the unemployment rate dropped to 3.3 percent in August?

"We estimate Mayo Clinic's job growth to continue at a rate of approximately 2.5 percent per year,"Schuitema said. That equates to more than 850 new employees needed in Rochester in 2015.

"The bulk of that job growth will be in patient-care-related jobs,"Schuitema said.

Mayo employee recruiters themselves, then, have a big job ahead of them.

"These are challenging times," Johnson said, "but I am very confident that with these short-term strategies and our targeted, robust hiring efforts, we will meet our current challenges and be well-positioned for the future."

Related Topics: MAYO CLINIC
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