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Willmar, Minn., hospital workforce is leaner, more highly trained

WILLMAR -- The workforce at Rice Memorial Hospital is leaner than ever -- and increasingly experienced and highly trained.

Through streamlining and efficiencies, the number of employees at the city-owned hospital and its entities, which include the Rice Care Center and Rice Rehabilitation Center, continues to be pared down. Last year Rice had 856 workers on the payroll; just three years earlier there were 969.

The average age of employees has inched up to just under 46. The average length of service is hovering close to 12 years, and overall employee turnover is 11.7 percent, almost the same as the year before.

The statistics, which appear in the hospital's annual human resources report for 2010, indicate a workforce that's stable and dedicated, said Joyce Elkjer, director of human resources.

"We want to attract, we want to develop and we want to retain not just our people but outstanding people," she said. "We spend a lot of money getting them here. We spend a lot of money training them."

Elkjer shared the report Wednesday with the hospital board of directors.

Increasingly, Rice is putting time and resources into staff development ranging from leadership training to education for the medical staff, Elkjer told the board.

"Human resources is all about reminding people of one thing: that we are here to provide exceptional service -- every patient, every day, every employee," she said.

Some of the training is basic for all new employees, but much of it is also offered on a continuing basis, she said. "We don't just hire and train them and let them go. It's an ongoing investment."

Last year, for example, the staff collectively spent nearly 9,000 hours in hospital-sponsored education programs. More than 200 staff education programs were provided. Rice also sponsored 57 continuing education programs for the medical staff in 2010.

Elkjer said the hospital has created its own computer-based learning program, consisting of some 75 courses that not only are customized for Rice Hospital but for the employee's position as well. "This is a key component to developing staff," she said.

The computer-based learning modules are constantly revised and updated, such as the modules added last year on blood transfusions, moderate sedation and informed consent, she said.

Rice's involvement in staff development also extends to providing opportunities for future health care workers.

A job shadowing program for high school and college students interested in health care careers was revised and upgraded this past year, Elkjer said. "We put a lot of emphasis on student experiences. It's so students can get a look and feel of what health care tastes like."

Rice also supports hands-on clinical experiences for students in the health care professions, ranging from nursing and pharmacy to medicine, dentistry and health information systems.

Despite the economic challenge of funding these programs, Rice managed to host 394 students last year -- some of whom could become future employees at Rice or another rural health care facility, Elkjer said.

These are critical programs to offer, she said. "I think this can have long-term results for health care and specifically for Rice."

The hospital's payroll in 2010 was $39.9 million, slightly higher than the $38.9 million that was paid out in wages and salaries the year before.

The majority of staff are experienced. Most are clustered in the 31- to 60-year-old age range. The majority of registered nurses also are 31 and older.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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