Colorado Springs firm helps fill nursing shortage

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The flu breaks out in Connecticut in November – and hundreds rush to emergency rooms and clinics for medical treatment. At the same time, many retired “snowbirds” head to Arizona for the winter. The result: an increased hospital patient census throughout Phoenix and Tucson. No problem, right?
Local medical staffs and healthcare professionals are used to handling “crunch” situations, but today’s nursing shortages, vacations, epidemics and unforeseen world events make it more difficult than ever to keep healthcare staffing at optimum levels. Carroll and Jon Smallegan, owners of Traveling Nurses of Colorado Springs and its sister company, Per Diem, understand these challenges and offer solutions.
Established in 1977 as Nurses PRN and Traveling Nurses PRN, the agency was home to Carroll who started her career with the company in Florida. As a recruiter and placement specialist, she matched temporary or contract nurses and healthcare staffers with the right job. There, too, she witnessed dramatic changes in hospital censuses, based on the influx and exit of winter vacationers. “Every year we’d see our beds fill up in the winter with out-of-staters who would leave by Easter. Hospital schedulers were faced with finding new hires every fall when a hospital census hovered at 180-190 patients and laying off workers every spring when the census dropped to 20. It really was a problem – particularly since Florida experienced the same critical nursing shortages common throughout the U.S.”
She eventually was transferred with Traveling Nurses to Denver in 1987 and opened the Colorado Springs office. By 1994 she and Jon (a former engineer and an MBA) decided to purchase Traveling Nurses of Colorado which qualified as Colorado Springs’ largest woman-owned business for 2000 and 2001, according to the Colorado Springs Business Journal.
Traveling Nurses serves two customers: hospitals/medical facilities that need temporary and permanent employees as well as nursing and healthcare professionals who like the flexibility of working on a 13 week contract in varied locations. “Several of our RNs have grandchildren or family in California or on the East Coast and they will sign up to fill in at hospitals near them,” says Carroll. “Others like to winter in Phoenix and summer in Alaska. It’s really a great way to work.”
The company, which recruits skilled talent in all healthcare job categories throughout the country, is constantly working with hospital schedulers, medical and dental office managers and clinic directors to fill positions. In addition, the agency’s recruiters only hire the “best of the best” nurses, medical and dental assistants, radiologist, emergency room personnel and even doctors to meet the ebb and flow of the business. In addition to recruiting and assessing employee skills, Traveling Nurses also conducts in-depth background checks, drug testing and Social Security identification review.
Katrina Borg-Becker, director of travel marketing and recruitment, recently joined Traveling Nurses to head that critical aspect of the company’s operation. “Of all the applicants we interview, only 60 percent are hired,” said Borg-Becker. “Our requirements and full 10-panel drug testing (including street as well as hospital drugs) and our Social Security checks, for example, are among the most extensive in the business. She admits that in a tight market for RNs that can create pressure, but emphasizes that Traveling Nurses’ reputation won’t be compromised by careless screening practices.
Seldom are nursing graduates with less than a year’s experience placed – unless requested by the client. “It’s very important that Traveling Nurses of Colorado Springs offer professionals who can walk in the door and work alongside the hospital’s own staff,” said Borg-Becker. She also has worked with area hospitals to fax Traveling Nurse profiles to hospital staffers in advance and to develop important orientation programs.
Quality service also was the motivator several years ago when the Smallegans decided to discontinue providing home health care staffing. “In order to qualify for Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, you really need to operate as a non-profit,” said Jon.
In response to the growing need for local temporary nursing and medical employees in the Pikes Peak region, in January 2002 Carroll Smallegan officially opened a separate agency, Per Diem Medical Staffing, which focuses on day to day staffing needs. “We serve both Colorado Springs hospitals, the two Pueblo hospitals and a number of other southern Colorado medical facilities,” she said.
In Colorado, Per Diem can offer assignments and provide staff for shorter periods of time as well as long-term contracts. The agency also provides medical and dental personnel on a permanent placement basis – offering “pay rolling” service for some clients who do not want to lose good applicants, but can not hire permanent staff immediately. Per Diem can also provide service workers for long term care, correctional medical, industrial, home health agencies, medical and dental offices/clinics.
So far, both companies are operating at capacity with more than 700 nurses enrolled annually and more than 1200 facilities served by the two companies. “We place Travelers all over the country,” says Borg-Becker. The average nurse is in his or her 40s and works on a 13-week contract basis, except for those assigned for 4-8 week contracts in Aspen or other ski areas. “They don’t want skiers when we send a Traveler,” said Carroll. “One nurse we sent to Aspen a few seasons back broke her leg before she was ever on the job.”
Jon Smallegan attributes his company’s successful recruiting of healthcare professionals in part to the fact that Traveling Nurses does offer health insurance coverage for employees while on a job or in transit to and from a contract hospital. “We also have many student nurses or physician assistants, CNAs and others who are getting certified who work for us. It’s a good way to help pay tuition.”
The horizon looks bright for this Colorado Springs-based outplacement service. “We are especially fortunate to have so many active and retired military close,” said Borg-Becker. “They make excellent employees, they like temporary assignments, and they are very self-disciplined.” Traveling Nurses also recently won the Colorado Corrections contract and provides staffing for facilities from Delta to Sterling to Limon and Canon City. The Smallegans agree that the key to their success lies in the energy and enthusiasm of the Traveling Nurses and Per Diem teams. “We want to provide a positive environment for our staffers – and even on the hectic days,” said Carroll, “Traveling Nurses and Per Diem is committed to delivering excellent customer service to the medical community.”