BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON -With competition for medical professionals feverish among health care facilities across the country, Fort Madison Community Hospital is seeing unprecedented success in recruiting in the past year.
Parallel to recent industrial expansions of Fort Madison’s industries in the likes of Siemens Gamesa, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Gregory Manufacturing, and Huffman Welding and Machine, Inc., FMCH is also growing inside the brick and mortar. The hospital has added 16 physicians and nurse practitioners in a 17-month period that spans from August 2017 to commitments made through November of this year.
Matt Mullins, vice president of physician services at FMCH, said the hospital began an aggressive recruiting campaign after results of surveys came back showing people in and around FMCH’s service area were concerned about the time it took to get in to see their doctor or to find a family physician.
“Every year we sit down and do a strategic plan and part of that plan discusses what the needs of the community are, as well as the needs of the patients we serve,” Mullins said.
“Something consistently we hear is – ‘We call in and we can’t get an appointment. All I want to do is see my doctor. I don’t want to go the walk-in clinic, I want to get an appointment with my doctor’.”
Mullins said the hospital administration looks at those results and every year they have a plan to have a specific number of physicians hired.
“Each year it’s way more than we thought possible, but this year it’s become possible.”
Angie Budnik, Community Relations Director for the hospital, says recruitment has become more integrated with the staff at the hospital rather than just a few administrators. Physician interviews now include more interaction with peer physicians, administrators, and the community and the results of that effort are encouraging.
“We tend to be able to get physicians here for interviews, it’s just a matter of then showcasing the town and showcasing the facility. Even internally, people have stepped up. Our other providers have done a great job in the recruitment process. Obviously, that first contact they have with Matt or the front desk when they walk in is a huge difference,” Budnik said.
She also said a solid relationship with Des Moines University Medical School is helping attract younger doctors the hospital. Medical students in their third year of medical school are working rotations at FMCH. While here, the students are exposed to what the facility and community have to offer and that is helping the hospital in getting commitments.
“Dr. Amy Huber signed with us when she was in her third year of medical school because she did her third year rotation with us,” Budnik said. “We can use that as a jumping off point with other recruits who see a young doctor coming in and want to be a part of that growth.”
Mullins said the improvement and growth that is being seen in Fort Madison now is also a part of the recent success.
“I think the why of it is that people, and not just here in the hospital, but in the community as well, are having an impact,” Mullins said. “It’s from when they check into their hotel to when they stop at Burger King or the gas station – to walking along the riverfront and they’re seeing it’s clean. For the longest time, the Iowan looked awful and people would ask what was going on… and now you can see their actively cleaning it up.”
“The ability to say not only do we have a new hotel, but it doubled, the city added a sports complex, built a new school, added another grocery store – those are things that happen in a town that’s growing.”
Mullins said it’s not an issue of the hospital, to put it bluntly, being cheap.
“There are 100 hospitals just like this in Iowa. This is not just the people, but how we get along,” he said. “The physicians can literally go wherever they want and if they go somewhere and experience the collegiality from all levels, that’s what they want. Some of the consistent feedback we hear is that they not only see the relationships between the staff and administration, but they feel it. I can tell them, or Jeremy (Alexander, FMCH CEO) can tell them, but when they hear it from their peers – that helps.”
Physician salaries are set by market value in four different quadrants of the country and Mullins said the market value for FMCH physicians is the same as those in Keokuk, Des Moines, St. Louis, or Chicago.
“It’s important for the public to know that, legally, we can’t pay more than market value for physicians,” he said. “If people say, ‘If FMCH would just quit being so cheap and just pay their physicians a good wage they could keep them. Legally we can’t pay them more than market value. So then it comes down to setting yourself apart from the others.”
The recent hiring success since August includes: Bobbi Marshall, Nurse practitioner Walk-in Clinic; Carrie Skibba, NP Walk-in Clinic; Nicole Wilcox, NP Walk-in Clinic; Alisa Kindig, NP in Women’s Health; Dr. Gorski, Pediatrician; Dr. David, Family Practice; Mariah Skelley, Mental Health NP; Dr. Rachel Knudson, General Surgery; Dr. Gary Palicka, Pediatrician; Dr. Yadira Rafuls, OB/GYN; Dr. Libby Balbort, Pediatrician; Dr. Amy Huber, Family Practice; Dr. Josh Sirucek, Family Practice; Dr. Ruth Barosy, Family Practice; Michelle Hornung, NP for nursing home; and Dr. Pauline Agornyo, Internal Medicine.
In December, FMCH and Great River Health Systems announced they were in official merger talks. At the time, Alexander said the diligence would take three to six months and no new announcements or information has been released. But Budnik and Mullins both indicated that the uptick in hiring and retention has little to do with those talks.
“Some of these hirings have been in the works for more than two years,” Mullins said. “The pediatrician that starts next month was here two years ago and Amy Huber was here five years ago. This is ongoing forever kind of stuff. We have a 2020 resident that we are already in contract negotiations with. We’re talking two years out and nobody has any idea what we’re going to look like, but we know historically we’ve always needed a pediatrician.”
But he said it takes a good mix of internal and external influences to keep staff here.
“A majority of the community, and I don’t blame them, are saying, ‘What are you doing, FMCH? You’re getting rid of all these people. It’s your fault’. When really it takes the whole community to keep them here. One of the things we’re focusing on with these new physicians is getting them plugged into the community.”
Budnik agreed that being out in the community helps to strengthen the retention.
“What we’re trying to do is get them out into the public where the community can see we have great doctors here. To have them out marketing themselves that way as well as being a part of the community – that’s an important part of the retention piece as well. Health care in general has let that slide.”