Health care industry more immune to jobless bug

New unemployment figures out Friday again show Florida's jobless rate soaring, this time past 12 percent to another record high. But the same data once again demonstrate how one major industry continues to resist the recession and add jobs.

Health care.

In such economic times, its ability to grow and hire, as industries like construction and tourism shrink, seems almost mythic. Can one industry just keep adding jobs?

It seems so. Two executives on the front lines of Tampa Bay's health care industry see plenty of opportunity for the broad business of taking care of ailing people.

In interviews, both say they anticipate more hiring ahead and have the numbers to prove it.

Steve Mason, CEO of the BayCare Health System, runs a Clearwater-based business that operates 11 area hospitals (and more coming). With more than 18,000 workers (full and part time), it is one of the biggest private employers in the metro area.

BayCare's adding upwards of 850 jobs, split between its brand new St. Joseph's Hospital-North in North Tampa — Tampa Bay's first new full-service hospital in 30 years — and a soon-to-open psychiatric hospital in Pasco County. Yet another hospital approved to serve the Apollo Beach area of Hillsborough County will break ground soon.

New jobs will not only come as the BayCare network expands to service growing parts of the Tampa Bay area, Mason says. More health care work will be pushed outside of hospitals as technology and pharmaceuticals allow services to spread into neighborhoods and procedures to be performed that once took place in hospitals.

In addition, new jobs will replace old jobs, as BayCare is experiencing now that it is half-way through its dramatic transition from paper to electronic medical records. The new field is called medical informatics.

"It will take us some time to understand and create many of these new jobs," says Mason, whose company already serves more than a third of the people in Tampa Bay.

The other area expert, Gary Jones, is manager of recruiting for Tampa's H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. At Moffitt, which employs just over 4,000 (full- and part-time), the fiscal year plan calls for hiring 562 new workers. Part of those hires reflect attrition (replacing people who left), while a good portion involves expansion, says Jones. So far, Moffitt's hired 257, and 109 positions are new jobs. And many of those new jobs involve helping Moffitt patients — cancer patients — as registered nurses and nursing managers.

The chronic nursing shortage was cited by both Jones and Mason, and both Moffitt and BayCare are taking steps on their own to create more RNs. Moffitt, which specifically looks for nurses with oncology (cancer-related) experience, has an internal program that pays certain employees to go to school to become RNs while they are also paid to work at Moffitt. BayCare collaborates and subsidizes RN training programs at St. Petersburg College to try and increase the number of employable nurses.

Jones says one of Moffitt's great challenges lately is finding ways to deal with the sheer volume of job applications it receives for its openings. "We've received close to 5,000 applications, almost a doubling, and that's hard to manage," he says.

Let's be clear. There are unemployed nurses out there. Whenever I write about the nursing shortage, I hear from RNs who say they can't find nursing work or can only find part-time or unpopular night-shift positions.

At Moffitt, Jones says simply posting a job opening these days can be inefficient. Moffitt can be inundated by job applications locally, statewide and nationally when it advertises an opening. Many of those applicants, he says, are not qualified. Narrowing the pool of applicants helps by using specific social media, advertising via certain Web sites or trying direct mail.

Says Jones: "The competition for job openings is so fierce, you have to give bad news to people who could be good employees."

Not that BayCare or Moffitt is immune to this recession. BayCare treats more patients than Moffitt, but for shorter periods of time. Mason says BayCare hospitals see more patients (or their spouses) losing jobs or health coverage or simply unable to keep paying expensive Cobra health benefits.

Moffitt's specialization in cancer treatment means they often deal with the same patients for years. In these times, that means more patients are losing their jobs or their health coverage at some point during such longer-term treatment.

"Health care is not as recession-proof as once thought," Jones acknowledges.

Maybe so. But it is a lot more recession-proof these days than nearly any other big industry.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com. Read his daily business blog at blogs.tampabay.com/venture

Fast facts

Job hunting tips from a health care recruiter

Moffitt Cancer Center recruiting manager Gary Jones says it's tougher than ever to plow through thousands of resumes of applicants seeking work at Moffitt and find the cream of the crop. Goal one, he says, is for applicants to win an interview because Moffitt does not hire anyone without an interview. Jones offers some tips to help reach the interview round:

1 Find ways to separate yourself and your resume from the hundreds received for any one job. Use cover letters. Follow up. Be very descriptive about your experience and skills on your resume and application, and you are less likely to be skipped over.

2 Brush up on interview skills. "A lot of individuals recently laid off worked for a company for the majority of their careers," Jones says. "So job interviewing is not something they have done for a long time. It is important to bring your interview skills up to speed."

3 As obvious as it sounds, dress professionally. Look sharp.

4 Come prepared for a "behavioral" interview. In a traditional interview, Jones says, an applicant might be asked: "Can you deal with fast-paced situations?" Now, he says, the interviews go deeper. Applicants are asked to cite detailed experience and examples of their meeting deadlines. "It's very specific," he says, "so we know you have done it. It is not theoretical."

Health care industry more immune to jobless bug 03/27/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 26, 2010 10:28pm]

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