Rice work force shrinking

WILLMAR -- Budget constraints and layoffs at Rice Memorial Hospital last year have led to a smaller work force and less spending on staff education and training.

WILLMAR -- Budget constraints and layoffs at Rice Memorial Hospital last year have led to a smaller work force and less spending on staff education and training.

For the third year in a row, the number of employees at the city-owned hospital has fallen, said Dale Hustedt, chief operating officer and associate administrator for human resources.

Seventeen of those positions -- mostly in nonclinical areas such as staff support, maintenance and marketing -- were cut in February 2007 to help offset a $2 million financial loss.

The hospital now has a leaner work force of 851, down from a peak of 886 in 2005.

The numbers are contained in the hospital's annual human resources report, which was presented this week to the hospital board of directors.


Although Rice is operating at a profit once again, the financial struggles have taken a toll on employees, Hustedt said.

The hospital also was shaken in November by the death of a medical records employee who suffocated when an automated filing system malfunctioned.

"This is a great organization with great people. It was just a tough year," Hustedt said. "Morale was affected. That just colored the organization for quite a while."

Turnover rates rose last year for registered nurses, from 7.8 percent to 13 percent.

The overall rate of employee turnover stayed mostly the same, however, at 14 percent.

"Although our turnover is creeping up, we still were below the state average," Hustedt said.

The turnover rate at the Rice Care Center, the hospital-owned nursing home, was at an all-time low last year of 18.6 percent. Normally it averages around 30 percent.

The payroll also has been declining over the past three years as operations become more streamlined. In 2006, when wages were frozen to rein in costs, it registered a $500,000 drop. The combined payroll for Rice Hospital, the Rice Care Center and the Rice Rehabilitation Center fell slightly again in 2007, to $38.2 million.


The human resources report shows a work force that is edging upward both in age and longevity.

Rice employees have an average age of 45.5 and an average 11.7 years of service.

Although most workers are in the under-50 age bracket, about one-fourth are between the ages of 51 and 60, and there were 73 employees who were more than 60 years old.

Among the hospital's registered nurses, half are in their 30s and 40s.

Budget constraints forced the hospital to cut back last year in areas such as discretionary training and leadership development, Hustedt said. As a result, the number of staff hours spent in education programs fell by nearly half.

Virtually all staff still completed training, however, on mandatory issues such as infection prevention and safety.

There are signs that Rice has managed to stay competitive in attracting new staff. Ninety-eight new employees were hired last year, according to the report.

The average pay rate climbed last year to $26.23 an hour, after being frozen the previous year.


Hustedt said it's also "very significant" that the hospital hosted 347 students last year -- an activity that's seen as key in developing the future health care work force.

Most of these students were completing training or acquiring clinical experience in a variety of fields, such as nursing, pharmacy, laboratory technology, dentistry, radiology and medicine.

"That's a very significant number for an organization this size," Hustedt said. "We believe that training students in clinical experiences is how we're going to be able to recruit and retain people in the future."

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