Florida Facility Thrives with Older Workers

One healthcare facility doesn't just accommodate older workers, it aggressively recruits them.
This article accompanies When Junior's in Charge

By Kristen B. Frasch

The Central Florida Health Alliance in Leesburg, Fla., doesn't just accommodate older workers. It recruits them.

For the past eight years, the CFHA -- made up of the Leesburg Regional Medical Center and The Villages Regional Hospital -- has been specifically going after healthcare staff over the age of 50 to boost retention and make residents of its retirement community feel at home.

An older workforce, in the heart of retirement country, "matches our patient population," says Darlene Stone, the medical center's vice president of human resources. "Plus, we value their work ethic. They are reliable, committed, loyal and methodical, which is especially important in healthcare because it results in fewer errors."

In the eight years since the facility launched its very unique recruitment campaign, as CFHA was opening a new hospital that needed to be staffed, it has increased the percentage of employees over 50 from 33 percent to 52 percent of the nearly 3,000 employees.

Another feather in its cap: It was named one of AARP's Best Employers for Workers Over 50 for 2008.

Stone says that, from the moment the decision to recruit older workers was made, "we've never looked back. From the CEO on down, there is a commitment to showing more mature workers how much we value them and what an important role they play in our healthcare system."

One way they communicate this appreciation -- and, in turn, attract older workers -- is to enforce workplace flexibility across the board.

CFHA offers a range of flexible-work options, including five different shifts, from as few as four hours to as many as 12 hours long, plus a wide range of part-time and seasonal schedules. Some employees have summers off. Others who travel north in the summer work during the fall and winter at the center.

"If we don't have an option that meets our nurses' needs, we'll create one," Stone says. "That's how important experienced workers are to meeting our needs."

Another way they make sure their older employees feel valued is through leadership training, particularly for younger supervisors. "We address the Gen X, Gen Y phenomenon," says Stone, "and how that's different from the other generations. We discuss the different perspectives.

"Before we put leaders out there," she says, "we make sure they understand the unique contributions that everyone makes, including older people. Everyone here is considered top talent."

Courtney Badman, 34, is one such young supervisor. As head of admitting for the PBX department, she supervises 96 employees, most of them phone operators and nearly half over the age of 50.

In addition to receiving focused training on supervisory skills and demographic understanding, Badman is also encouraged to go out of her way every day to meet with her team members.

"From our CEO, president, all the way [down], leadership is very big," she says. "They want you to be with your team. So every Thursday, I spend a day up here and visit the alliance labs or visit urgent care.

"I'll just pick a day and sit at one of the computers there, so I get to know my team," says Badman. "My management team is always out there too. I make sure I keep them out of the same meetings. I let them know what's going on, but I want them to be very visible with their teams, too."

She's all about flexibility, too. After she came into her current position five years ago, after working a previous five as a manager at Florida Hospital in Orlando, Badman realized the need for more part-time allowances and ease of mobility.

"So, under me, we started allowing our older employees to come to work on their retirement-community golf carts."

"I love it here," she says. "I can really see myself retiring here. And when I do, I know I'm in the right place, a place that supports the idea of flexibility.

"Hey," she says with a laugh, "I'll want to start riding my golf cart to work!"

It's that respect for older citizens and older workers, says Stone, "that is so ingrained in our culture and so understood that it's one of those things we don't always have to speak about."

"It amazes me," Stone says, "when I hear other organizations talk about people who are nearing 62 or 65 and will be retiring soon. I tell them, 'Take a look at the people you're talking about before you categorize them by age. If you're thinking you're going to go out and find a younger, better replacement for every post, you may have another think coming.'

"... [I]f you don't start thinking about your people like we do here -- that people need to be looked at for what they bring to the position, not the age they are -- you really are missing out on a valuable resource that could carry you into the future.

"Because I do see this demographic growing in the workforce in general -- more older workers staying on [by choice or necessity] -- and if people in HR can't start looking at their talent as talent instead of looking at the outer coating first, they will not succeed," she says.

"I guess I would say to them, 'Shame on you.' Or maybe I can just tell them, 'Never mind. You just keep turning them away -- or chasing them away through poor management -- and I'll keep on hiring them.' "

Feb 7, 2011
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