Ready or Not, Healthcare HR is Going Strategic

John Commins, May 23, 2011

It's one of the great ironies of healthcare human resources.

There is arguably no other labor-intensive industry that is so reliant upon a highly skilled, highly educated, high-cost, and high-in-demand workforce that literally makes life-or-death decisions every day. And yet, in many hospitals and health systems HR remains an afterthought in the C-suite. HR is considered the domain of pencil-pushing functionaries whose job descriptions do not include strategic planning, and who are better suited for tactical tasks and processes.

There is a growing sense, however, that changes in healthcare brought on by the commercial market and by the federal healthcare law, the inevitable and growing shortages of skilled healthcare professionals, and the newfound and measurable importance of patient satisfaction scores for reimbursements will prompt a reassessment of HR in strategic planning. 

Stephanie Drake, executive director of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA), concedes that healthcare HR has traditionally been "reactive and not necessarily proactive" around long-term planning and other strategic aims.

"It's all over the board. Some of our ASHHRA members are quite engaged at the board level, looking at turnover and performance issues as they relate to patient safety and experience. But we have other members who might be at the board table but they aren't sure what they should be contributing," she says.

That mindset must change.

"HR needs to understand what the CEO needs, where the organization is headed to better prepare itself," Drake says. "I know we talk about workforce shortages, but many of our hospitals haven't seen it yet and if they aren't paying attention. Five years down the road they are going to hit a wall where they don't have enough nurses or physicians. People will be retiring at an astronomical rate and maybe HR hasn't done enough to prepare or even to understand that this is coming down the pike."

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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