As a rural hospital begins its search for a Chief Executive Officer, an understanding of the unique challenges and talent market for such a position is crucial. The task ahead is to identify who will meet these challenges while furthering the vision of the organization. The latest rise in COVID-19 cases has exacerbated the healthcare access disparities experienced by rural communities. We highlighted the specific impact on mental health and care access this past month. That is why now more than ever, rural health leaders are important to improving effective planning of care for these patient populations.
Since the signing of the Affordable Care Act, the number of hospital mergers and consolidations increased in an effort to reduce costs, expand market share and provide more access to care for patients. Many rural organizations sought partnerships with groups like the National Rural Health Resource Center (NRHRC) for guidance and direction to maintain independence while still adapting to changing delivery models. For rural hospitals and systems seeking to remain independent the key to sustainability is the development of leaders who have a deep sense of community and innovation. At Curative, our experience with rural healthcare recruitment has shown that the successful organizations thrive because of a keen understanding of these two elements.
The person who will ultimately be your rural hospital's CEO will be an extension of your community. He or she will likely see board members, staff, patients, and other executives on a frequent basis. The ideal leader will have a presence in local neighborhood events and be viewed as a change-driver in the community. It is important to find someone who will align both personally and professionally with the organization and the community. During the initial stages of the recruitment process, a strong emphasis must be placed on identifying the defining characteristics of your community and how we can translate that into selling points for seasoned leaders. In an article published in the Journal of the Association of Staff Physician Recruiters, our CIO, Sepi McDonnell, spoke about how to identify the motivations and values of candidates who will work in rural markets. Partnering with an executive search firm who can apply that same know-how to identify candidates to work effectively in your community, with your board, and within an independent organization located in a rural area is crucial to a fast placement.
According to a report by the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), hospital CEO turnover was at 18%. While this level of turnover is equal to that reported the previous year, it is still among the highest rates reported in the past two decades. Deborah J. Bowen, FACHE, CAE, president and CEO of ACHE at the time commented, “the continuing trend of consolidation among organizations, the emergence of new models of care, retirement of leaders from the Baby Boomer era as well as movement of CEOs within health systems may all be contributing factors.” We believe rural hospitals are at an advantage with this talent movement because of the appeal of being an independent organization. You will be able to attract the seasoned professional who is looking for agility and independence. There are many avenues available to market positions to these individuals: conferences such as the Rural Health Care Leadership Conference which focuses on innovative ideas and strategies for improving rural healthcare, networks such as LinkedIn groups for healthcare executives with diverse leadership backgrounds, and multi-media outreach to prospective candidates.
With the high level of turnover within this specific role, you must be cautious and diligent in following a thorough recruitment plan. A key part of an executive search is to establish both compensation and performance criteria on the front end, before you begin to look for candidates. We recommend creating a scorecard for potential candidates with outcomes desired clearly outlined so all parties in the process are equally informed. This type of preparation will turn a seemingly difficult search into an attainable goal.
When talent management teams succeed in recruiting and retaining the right leaders, healthcare organizations are in stronger position to deliver high quality care. While any healthcare executive will be challenging, we believe that the community and your organization’s vision will help recruit the right leader for the job. The organizations that have made the investment in building strong leaders who are aligned with the organization’s goals, accountable to achieving these goals and able to engage their employees are the organizations that will be successful in our current healthcare marketplace.