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Friday, November 23, 2012 - Kalkaska Memorial Recognized for Workforce Retention

Kalkaska Memorial Recognized for Workforce Retention
Michigan Health Council honors hospital’s innovations, success

In 1989, recruiting health care professionals to Kalkaska was not difficult. Retaining them was.

Kalkaska Memorial Health was viewed as a lily pad that offered good opportunities for experience before the recruit hopped toward a bigger designation in the health care pond.

However, in the past 20 years a multi-pronged strategy to raise and train local expertise has paid off for Kalkaska Memorial Health Center and the community. Those efforts were recognized by the Michigan Health Council at its annual meeting on Monday, Nov. 12 in East Lansing as the hospital received the Building Michigan Healthcare Workforce Award for its retention of employees.

“This is terrific recognition for a long-term vision that began two decades ago to recruit and retain professionals who would make a commitment to the community,” said Jim Austin, hospital administrator. “We’re pleased to be honored with the award. We’re in good company. Last year the University of Michigan received the retention recognition.”

Michigan Health Council President Anne Rosewarne said the group began the awards in 2008 as an effort to recognize Michigan health care organizations and educators who are “designing and implementing creative approaches to address Michigan’s health care workforce needs and issues.”

Kalkaska Memorial Director of Operations Kim Babcock said the hospital’s program began in the early 1990s as they found retention an issue that had to be addressed.

“We became intentional in our decision process to grow our own professionals from our own employee base and community base,” she said. “In 1990 we started our first scholarship program for a local high school senior to avoid the rural community talent drain. We now give out more than 10 annually, including one to the daughter of our first recipient.”

As part of the hospital’s strategy it offers scholarships and loans to employees who want to further their education, loan payment assistance for physicians, physician assistants, and physical therapists who are employed after their education, tuition reimbursement for employees, pre-hire employment for professional employees working on their degree during education breaks, internships for college students, and scholarships to Kalkaska graduating seniors choosing a health care occupation applicable to the hospital.

Statistics submitted to the Michigan Health Council shows turnover of professional staff has declined from 2000 to 2012. Additionally, 20 percent of staff has used one or more aspects of the retention program. The hospital also has scored in the top quartile for employee engagement in 2011 and was ranked “best in class in the top 2 percent” by Avatar HR Solutions, which conducted the survey in 2012.

Kalkaska Memorial nurse Barb Hulwick, R.N., does not know what turn her life might have taken if she had not received one of the hospital’s first scholarships back in 1991. She was a young mother still in high school when she called the hospital for an interview about the scholarship. She became a certified nurse’s aide and worked while attending classes to get her degree. Hulwick now works as a nurse manager in the Long-term Care department.

“The organization’s openness in helping me was life changing. I don’t know where I would be today without their help. I wouldn’t have thought I would have been able to attend college or be a nurse,” she said. Now Barb’s daughter, Kayla, is a sophomore at Grand Valley State University studying to be a nurse practitioner – she also has become a recipient of the scholarship.

Babcock said the hospital’s program has exceeded expectations.

“Improving the program over many years has been a benefit to our hospital and the community,” she said. “It’s now become ingrained in our culture and it’s exciting to be recognized for our efforts.”