Voices: Eric Scharber, Principal, Simione Healthcare Consultants

This article is sponsored by Simione Healthcare Consultants. In this Voices interview, Home Health Care News sits down with Principal Eric Scharber, who leads Exact Recruiting, a Simione Talent Solution, to learn how COVID-19 re-routed staffing approaches devised around the Patient-Driven Groupings Model (PDGM). We also discussed the four most important practices for retention — and the fifth area that COVID has brought to the fore.

HHCN: Why don’t you tell us how you reached Simione and the place that you hold right now?

Eric Scharber: Sure. I started off right out of college in the recruiting and staffing world totally by accident. When I graduated college, I had a job offer from a health care staffing/recruiting company, and I honestly didn’t even know what health care staffing and recruiting was. When I took the job, I just knew it was something in health care, which I was interested in, and I thought I’d give it a go. I immediately had a knack for it and loved the idea of connecting people with opportunities. It almost felt like a game to me, like the old game of Memory where you flip over a king and you’re looking for another king. It’s like that in the talent world: You have an opportunity you need to fill in, you need to find the match for that.

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In 2005, after getting my feet wet in the industry with a couple of companies, I started Exact Recruiting, a search firm dedicated 100% to the home health, home care and hospice industries nationwide, finding talent, and then helping organizations retain that talent. We had a longtime relationship with Simione as a referral partner. I met Billy (managing principal William Simione III) and a few of the other principals within Simione in 2007. We referred business back and forth.

At some point, it made sense for us to try and put the two companies together. There were so many synergies. Simione didn’t have a focus on recruiting, and I didn’t have a focus on consulting. It was a real natural collaboration to bring the two companies together and see if one plus one could equal three or four.

This is obviously an industry greatly in flux. Everyone thought PDGM would be the story of 2020. In a way, it still is, but obviously with the emergence of COVID-19, that changes. With so many elements piled upon each other, what does the talent and workforce picture look like so far this year at Exact Recruiting?

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You’re right. The end of last year was all about, what is 2020 going to look like? PDGM is going to bring everything to a grinding halt, et cetera. And just as people were starting to get their feet under them, COVID came along. That also took a front seat, rightfully so, to the workforce. That said, what’s interesting to me is that what gets organizations through challenges is not some sort of a strategic plan.

The plan is part of it, but you need the people to execute on the strategy in the plan, in order to overcome the PDGM challenges, or to get through this pandemic. It did take a backseat because people were caught off guard, but I do think there’s going to be a swing back in the other direction. Workforce has been knocked down a couple of pegs, but it’s not going anywhere. This industry needs people to thrive; it’s continuing to grow, and that’s not going to change.

With that being the case, what can be done to support talent and workforce development for stronger clinical and financial operations?

In these times of COVID-19, I’ve seen organizations go two different ways. I’ve seen organizations make it all about their people and really focus on their teams, getting into things from a safety standpoint, as well as just from an operational standpoint and really being there for them from a top-down leadership standpoint. Those organizations will ultimately thrive because the people working for them will look back and say, “We were supported by our leadership.”

Then there are others that aren’t really focusing on their people, and they’re making it more about the pandemic. For lack of a better word, they’re just freaking out, and not really focusing on their talent. At the end of the day, you support your workforce by developing them. We help organizations find the right talent and get the right person in the right seat. If the right person is not in the right seat, we go out to the industry and we find that right person so that they can develop and support them.

Where does Exact Recruiting see its greatest benefit to providers today?

Whatever an organization does, I always say, “Look, you are an expert at home care, home health or hospice — we are experts at finding, identifying and vetting talent. That’s what we do for a living: going out there and find these folks who are so very hard to find, identifying them, sourcing them and getting them excited about opportunities with our clients.

We bring value because of our network, because of our ability to go out and upgrade that talent when you’ve identified weaknesses. We bring the value of being able to get people in front of them for key roles. On top of that, we bring a lot of value to our clients in a way of helping them engage their staff. It’s not over once you find them, and it’s not over once you hire somebody. You have to keep them and retain them, and obviously, a big part of retaining your staff is having an engaged workforce and we show clients how to do that on a regular basis.

You talked about retention. Retention challenges are what they are, but recruiting challenges tend to vary across markets. What is the top reason that providers are coming to you for help right now?

The simplest answer to that is there’s just a shortage. There’s not enough experienced talent with industry experience to keep up with demand. Even with everything that’s going on, the list of positions that we’re working on for clients across this country continues to grow. Demand is far exceeding supply. That’s the number one thing that folks are coming to us about.

The rest are obvious. Hard-to-fill positions — maybe because of the geographic situation, rural or out of the way places — or surprise gaps I would say is another reason, along with succession planning. Interim leadership is a key area where we help when gaps unexpectedly pop up and you need a leader to step in and fill that gap for a period of time, while a permanent search is going on. It’s been a big part of what we’ve been doing this year.

We talked about retention briefly, which is an area of concern for many organizations in home-based care. How has COVID-19 changed retention strategy?

We’ve interviewed tens of thousands of people and everybody we interview, we ask, “Why are you leaving your job?” We dig deep and we identify these trends as to why people were saying they’re leaving jobs.

Relationships with managers is a big factor. We hear a flexible work-life balance. The third reason we always hear is compensation. It’s amazing how wrong this industry gets compensation. They don’t research it; they don’t dig deep. The fourth reason is professional development. Good employees don’t want a dead-end job. If you’re not providing an opportunity to grow and advance, folks are looking for other jobs.

I think with COVID-19 specifically, culture and the communication is big, too, which all leads back to employee safety. We are hearing some people saying that they don’t like how their organizations are handling their employees during this pandemic. In the past couple of months specifically, we’ve heard that.

What are you seeing in the market as far as hiring, and are agencies and candidates willing to make a move right now? What advice do you have for filling critical positions in uncertain times?

A client asked me this question earlier this week actually. When the year started, everything was slow going as far as organizations looking to hire, specifically for home health. Hospice really hadn’t changed much, but candidates were still very much interested in making moves. It started picking up in February. Then obviously, this pandemic really started in March, and everything came to a screeching halt.

We saw both employers and employees pump the brakes and say, “Let me just wait and see.” Nothing much happened in March. We had little tidbits of interest here and there, but it was very much, “Let’s see what’s going on.” In April, the wheels started moving again. The phones were really ringing.

What was interesting to me was that in April, for the first time in my 20-year career in the recruiting world, we saw an organization hire a senior leader without ever meeting that person face-to-face, just via video conferencing. After three, four weeks worth of video conferencing and phone calls and whatnot, the offer was made and accepted, and that person started with their new organization, virtually, in a senior leadership role.

Now, we’re seeing multiple organizations going down that same track of being comfortable with a full interview process being virtual as opposed to having to fly somebody in for a face-to-face interview. That’s what really pumped the brakes so hard in March: “How do we interview somebody?” In April, they figured out, “We could do this virtually.”

Now in May, leaders realized that, one, this pandemic’s not going to just come to an end next week, and two, their organizations will still have significant talent needs. They pumped the brakes a couple of months ago, and now the foot’s on the gas and we have to move forward and make these key strategic hires for our organizations.

In just a single word, describe the dynamic that Exact Recruiting brings to home health and hospice specifically to this new normal.

I would say that that word would have to be a “resource.” The industry hopefully looks to us as a resource to identify, to find talent that they otherwise couldn’t find on their own. No matter what’s going on, it all comes back to their people. We are a resource to this industry for talent acquisition and retention strategies.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Simione Healthcare Consultants is a consulting firm for home health, hospice, home care and other community-based provider companies. Learn more at Simione.com.

The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact sales@agingmedia.com.

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