August 14, 2019

St. Mary’s Health System of Maine Gets Creative to Find Nurses

Lewiston, ME - For a while, they tried bringing nursing students pizza. It was a way for the St. Mary’s Health System’s talent acquisition team to connect, to introduce themselves, to say, “Hey, St. Mary’s has some jobs openings for you, future nurses.”A lot of openings.

“We exhausted every recruitment strategy we could think of,” said Lisa Cramm, system manager of talent acquisition for Covenant Health, which owns St. Mary’s.

They attended local college coffee-and-doughnut hours, too. And blanketed job fairs, where they tried to stand out from all the other talent acquisition teams from all the other hospital systems.They offered to help pay for school for current employees interested in getting into nursing and for nursing students who would agree to work at St. Mary’s for a while after graduation.They offered signing bonuses up to $10,000.“We exhausted every recruitment strategy we could think of,” said Lisa Cramm, system manager of talent acquisition for Covenant Health, which owns St. Mary’s.So with 70 to 75 openings — 20 at its nursing home alone — St. Mary’s decided to try something more bold.It looked toward Foreign-Trained Nurses (FENs), primarily from the Philippines.In August and September, 13 experienced FENs joined the staff at St. Mary’s d’Youville Pavilion nursing home, filling more than half its 20 openings. It’s the closest the nursing home has been in a year to a full staff of permanent nurses.Nursing director Marissa Varney called it “a blessing.”

“It will be good for our patients, first and foremost,” she said. “We’ve used travel RNs, but they’re only here for 13 weeks. Sometimes they extend it for another 13 weeks, but it’s not the same. Having the continuity with staff, having the patient know who’s taking care of them, it’s big. It’s huge.”

It’s no secret that Maine has a nursing shortage now and a crisis looming not too far off. Maine needs hundreds of registered nurses now. That’s gotten some organizations worried. If pizza parties and signing bonuses aren’t helping, what will?For St. Mary’s, it meant looking outside the country.

Aging Nurses, Aging Patients

Maine hospitals began getting concerned about a nursing shortage more than a decade ago. Baby Boomers were just starting to reach retirement age and a tremendous number of Maine nurses were among them.Then the recession hit in 2008, and real estate values, the stock market and retirement accounts sank. Many nurses put off retirement. Ten years later, nurses are returning to those retirement plans and, now in their 60s and 70s, aren’t likely to put them off again.“We came out of the recession with an even older nursing workforce,” said Lisa Harvey-McPherson, co-chair of the Maine Nursing Action Coalition. “And so we have this accelerated retiring of nurses and we don’t have enough younger nurses to replace them. That’s the basic math.”

“We Need You”

“We just could not entice new grad nurses to move over to senior health,” Cramm said.Because they have their choice of jobs, nurses in Maine are generally more interested in working in a hospital, where they can focus on emergency medicine, labor and delivery or any number of other specialties. By comparison, long-term care has the reputation for being somewhat dull.Foreign-educated nurses, it turns out, are OK with that.While St. Mary’s couldn’t find nurses, nurses 8,000 miles away couldn’t find jobs. The Philippines has more nurses than work available. And the jobs they can find aren’t always great, particularly at government hospitals, where nurses might earn $200 to $600 a month.This spring, St. Mary’s Health System signed with PassportUSA, who in turn presented a pool of 20+ candidates. Relying on resumes and phone interviews, St. Mary’s initially offered jobs to 14. One dropped out for personal reasons and the other 13 said yes.The nurses didn’t have to take the job. Some had worked in other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, and they could have continued that work. Some had multiple interviews in the U.S. and could have chosen to work somewhere other than St. Mary’s.But while they could have said no to the job offers, for some it was a great fit. “Before the interviews, I prayed with my husband,” said Christine Tan, 30, who interviewed for nursing jobs in both Pennsylvania and Lewiston, and asked God to help lead her to the right choice.PassportUSA handled their work visas and dealt with the logistics of getting the FENs to Lewiston, including finding them apartments, getting them cellphones and making sure they were comfortable driving in America. The nurses began arriving In August 2018, some with spouses and children in tow.[caption id="attachment_348623" align="alignright" width="489"]

Millicent Moreno, 30, works at her station at St. Mary's d'Youville Pavilion in Lewiston. Moreno is one of 13 experienced Filipino nurses who have joined the staff.[/caption]

Warmly Received

At St. Mary’s d’Youville Pavilion, they received a hero’s welcome. “They are very hospitable here,” said Moreno, 30. “We feel that we are working with family.”The foreign-educated nurses come with the same kind of training and required licenses as American nurses. They speak English. They’re from a country whose population is largely Catholic, so they’re familiar with the essence of St. Mary’s, a Catholic hospital system.There has been adjustment for sure. Some of the RNs have been surprised by how small Maine’s population is, for example.“I was used to seeing a lot of people in the Philippines. In Lewiston I’m happy every time there’s a car passing by our house.” Tan said with a laugh.But while they marvel at how few people there are, they also appreciate it. “My husband likes a quiet place where we can raise kids,” Tan said.The Filipino nurses have been embraced by many at d’Youville, especially those staff members whose jobs are made a little easier by the sudden influx of 13 new co-workers.The nurses will stay at St. Mary’s for three years under contract. After that, they can go somewhere else, or they can stay on at St. Mary’s. Just a few months in, some are already talking about staying, raising their children in Lewiston, bringing family to Maine.

"I’m so thankful,” said Misty Marston, a nurse at d’Youville Pavillion. “Our new nurses from abroad are so pleasant and hard working. I really appreciate having them aboard our team.”

More to Come

This is a kind of pilot for the hospital system, but Cramm can already see more international hiring in St. Mary’s future — and maybe not just for its nursing home.

Partnership Stats and Summary

  • Profile: St. Mary’s d’Youville Pavilion is one of the largest nursing homes north of Boston. They are owned by St. Mary’s Health System who is in turn affiliated with the larger, three-hospital Covenant Health Systems.
  • Location:Â Lewiston, ME - 45 minutes north of Portland, ME
  • Staffed Beds:Â 436 system-wide with 140 at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center
  • EMR System:Â Epic
  • Workforce Summary: As of October 3, 2018, 13 PassportUSA nurses are working at St. Mary's d'Youville Pavilion

About PassportUSA

PassportUSA by Health Carousel is the leading provider of internationally-trained nurses, physical therapists, and medical technologists to United States healthcare organizations. Our temp-to-perm workforce solution is more cost-effective and flexible than traditional contract labor options. Our experienced international healthcare professionals are U.S. licensed, work-authorized, and ready to aid our client healthcare organizations and their patients from their first day of work in the United States. Simply put, PassportUSA connects healthcare institutions with exceptional global talent.

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