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Many Hospitals 'Get' What Older Workers Want

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, November 7, 2011

Last week, I cited a new study suggesting that high employee turnover in hospitals could be linked to low funding of healthcare human resources departments, as compared with industry averages.

It was a fair critique, and there has been lots of commentary of late about the need for hospitals to improve retention, especially among younger nurses.

On a related issue, however, many hospitals do exceedingly well: retaining older workers. That point was brought home in an AARP report in September that placed 18 hospitals among the nation's Top 50 "Best Employers for Workers Over 50."

It shouldn't be surprising that hospitals dominate the list. Some professions—such as journalism—regard older workers as expensive, hidebound, and slow-moving wildebeests that are easy pickings for layoffs when they begin to straggle behind the herd.

Hospital HR leaders, however, recognize the value of their senior staffers, who carry in their skulls a lifetime of institutional wisdom and real-life experience. Hospital HR leaders also understand the skyrocketing costs of recruiting and retaining older staffers' replacements when a nationwide workforce shortage means qualified candidates are holding most of the cards.

I spoke with HR executives at two health systems that made the AARP list: Bonnie Shelor, senior vice president of human resources at Richmond, VA–based Bon Secours Richmond Health System; and Sid Seligman, senior vice president for HR at West Orange, NJ–based Saint Barnabas Health Care System. When it comes to retaining older staff, Shelor and Seligman are singing in the same choir.

"We put a premium on older employees," Shelor says. "In our organization we greatly value the kind of knowledge and experience and intellectual capital and wisdom that the older worker brings to us. You just can't replicate it. We see the older worker is a great mentor/guide/coach for the younger worker. A pairing of those two is the best of all worlds."

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