Officials with Sparks Health System announced Thursday (Aug. 21) a push to hire 50 nurses before Halloween as part of an effort to expand surgical and critical care services and better manage overall growth in demand.
Shelly Cordum, the chief nursing officer for Sparks in Fort Smith and Summit Medical Center in Van Buren, said Sparks plans to soon add 32 beds for medical and surgical patients and at least 10 beds for critical care. Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems is the parent company of Sparks and Summit.
Positions open for nurses include Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN), Registered Nurses (RN) and unit assistants. Part of the effort to recruit new nurses and retain existing nurses is a tuition reimbursement package up to $5,000 for those pursuing a nursing career and up to $2,500 for those seeking a college degree in other fields.
“We’re very blessed right now that we are expanding and we have some very good programs” that help nurses grow their careers, Cordum said in an interview with The City Wire. “We really want to offer this to people so they can have true career growth with us.”
Pay for LPNs with several decades of service can total around $70,000, not including pay for certain types of shift work and other benefits. For nurses with two years or more experience and certain qualifications, the pay can total more than $50,000 a year. A unit assistant could start at around $20,000 a year.
Cordum said the regional health system has 824 registered nurses, 139 LPNs and 144 unit assistants. She said the more than 1,100 nurses are busy keeping pace with a system that saw more than 6,700 people cycle through the emergency room in July, and the growing number of people accessing healthcare now that insurance is available to more residents.
“We do team nursing at Sparks because it takes a team to take care of people nowadays because they are sicker than they have ever been,” Cordum said, adding that people who previously did not have health care coverage are entering medical systems and they are often “really, really sick.”
Cordum said the hospital system, like most systems around the country, must do more to attract and retain quality employees. Part of that for Sparks is offering flexible work schedules allowing nurses to work over the weekend and be free most of the week.
“You have to be creative on that work-life balance,” Cordum said.
Younger generations also have a different concept of work. Younger nurses who can travel may work a year or two at one hospital and then travel to a hospital in another city and repeat that for several years.
“The younger generation, they do like to travel. ... They don’t pick an employer and stay with them for 20 or 30 years,” she explained.
Cordum, who moved to the Fort Smith area in September 2012 and has been in the medical field since 1982, said nurse turnover at the hospital system ranges between 5% and 8% a year, which she said is “very average” in the nursing field.
The medical field has been a growth sector in the Fort Smith region, although in recent years employment has been inconsistent. In Education & Health Services, employment was 16,300 during June, down from 16,500 in May and below the 17,000 during June 2013. Annual average monthly employment in the sector has steadily grown since 2005 when it reached 14,000. In 2012 the average was 17,000, but fell slightly to 16,800 in 2013. Employment in the sector reached a record 17,300 in October 2012.