Accreditation raising bar for med staffing services

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Published: April 11,2005

Debbie Young was delighted to learn March 30 that her medical staffing service was the first one in Mississippi, and only the 11th in the nation, to receive a certification from the Joint Commission of Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), the oversight body for healthcare organizations and managed care in the U.S.

“It’s such an important certification that when we shared the news with a hospital in Tennessee, they faxed a contract and asked us to fill their needs,” said Young, co-owner of Jackson-based Southern Healthcare Agency Inc. “And we’d been trying to get into that hospital for years.”

Last October, JCAHO, an independent, non-profit group, added healthcare staffing services to the list of healthcare entities that may receive a Quality Check, a distinction given to healthcare organizations that meet or exceed the Joint Commission’s standards and quality expectations. More than 15,000 healthcare organizations and programs, mostly hospitals and nursing homes, have been JCAHO-accredited in the U.S. since the program began in 1951.

“I went to a national conference last year about this time, and that’s all everybody was talking about,” said Young. “They were like, ‘Ohhh, man!’ because you have to work very hard to achieve these standards of excellence. But it’s one of the greatest trends you’ll see. It will soon get to the point where hospitals only want to use JCAHO-certified companies, and insurance companies will require it.”

The new accreditation program, the imbalance of supply and demand in the nursing industry, the influx of foreign nurses and the growing trend of traveling nurses were among the hot topics recently discussed by nursing industry advocates.

“The good news is that more young people, and even older people seeking a second career, are interested in nursing,” said Debbie Logan, a healthcare workforce specialist with the Office of Nursing Workforce in Mississippi. “Unfortunately, applicants for nursing schools are on waiting lists because of the faculty shortage. The supply cannot match the demand.”

In California, state lawmakers recently mandated a nurse-patient ratio, and Texas legislators recently mandated the use of only JCAHO-certified companies, of which there are currently two in the Lone Star state. Because the demand greatly outstrips the supply, nurses are traveling to those areas to make big bucks, said Young.

“I’d say more travel nurses are leaving Mississippi than coming into the state,” said Logan. “They take assignments making really good money, come home and get rid of their bills. That’s a real draw for people that don’t have families, want to see the world and have a good time.”

Ann Barnes, president of Prime Care Nursing, said the agency focuses on keeping Mississippi nurses in the state.

“Travel nursing has become a more popular option in the last few years, but just like anything, it runs in a cycle,” she said. “We offer our nurses that alternative, but we want them to come back home.”

Mississippi hospitals have implemented programs to retain nurses, such as a flexible schedule or a float pool for nurses to work when they wish. They have directly recruited foreign nurses, and more than half of the state’s hospitals call on staffing services to supplement their staff.

“In response to the increased use of temporary staff, the Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA) established a program in partnership with the South Carolina Hospital Association to help Mississippi hospitals negotiate contracts with staffing agencies, centralize coordination of staffing services, reduce administrative time associated with the use of staffing agencies and provide data/reports of temporary staff utilization,” said Marcella McKay, MHA’s vice president for nursing and professional affairs. “The program has been well received by hospitals and staffing agencies in the state.”

Nurses like to work for staffing companies because of the flexibility, especially if they have children or a multitude of responsibilities, said Young.

“In a hospital, you have shift work 40 hours a week, no matter what’s going on in your life,” she said. “They can offer some flexibility for short periods of time, but not long term. In our industry, nurses really get to choose. If they want to work this week, fine. If not, fine.”

When Southern Healthcare opened 12 years ago, nurses showed up at the doorstep, said Young.

“However, with the current nursing crisis, staffing services have to devote more effort and be more creative recruiting nurses these days,” she said. “I have a team of people recruit for me all day long, and we have to look down every avenue to find good nurses because hospitals expect the best. We pay our nurses a little more, but we don’t offer full-time benefits. Some nurses have a full-time job with benefits and work for us part-time for extra money, or their spouse has a job that covers their healthcare insurance.”

A registered nurse, depending on the geographic area, expertise and specialty, can make between $24 and $32 per hour in Mississippi, said Young.

“It’s not the really big bucks, but it’s a good living,” she said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

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