Anybody tasked with finance and accounting staffing over the last year or so has felt the effects of a labor market that’s now as tight as it’s ever been. To hiring managers in the healthcare industry, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Supply shortfalls have been the norm for health labor, where the skills gap has increased more than tenfold since the end of the recession.
So what have CFOs of healthcare systems and hospitals done to build finance and accounting hiring strategies that reflect the realities of the labor market?
Everything they can.
To learn more about the particulars of finance and accounting hiring in the healthcare and hospital industry, we asked Aston Carter Account Manager Matthew Texeira for insight. He’s specialized in placing niche finance and accounting talent for over five years, primarily in the Philadelphia market.
As the healthcare industry, like many others, continues its trend toward consolidation, the labor market has only become more difficult to negotiate.
That’s because unlike other industries, healthcare tends to incorporate the full finance and accounting staff of post-merger acquisitions as fully functioning subsidiaries, with the labor requirements of daily operations remaining relatively unchanged. The difference is that all of a sudden, where before two entities could compete with each other for talent, now all hiring is run through one entity —dramatically reducing the availability of passive candidates.
And this trend goes beyond consolidation in the traditional sense of mergers and acquisitions. Healthcare providers are also pursuing strategic partnerships with insurance companies, further reducing the number of passive candidates with finance and accounting skills developed in a related industry.
“Basically, consolidation stagnates an already shallow labor pool,” says Texeira. “Where before you could find candidates thanks to churn, it’s gotten a lot harder to do that.”
The complexity of healthcare billing comes as no surprise to anybody who’s been following recent news coming out of Washington, DC. What’s new is the pace of change. In response, healthcare and hospital companies have undertaken numerous software upgrades to address rapidly evolving coverage and subsidy offerings available under federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Software implementations in interrelated areas such as billing, clinical management, revenue cycle management and enterprise resource planning systems have become crucial to any given healthcare company’s ability to integrate changes in reimbursement rates and procedures, adjust accounts receivable practices to recover debts and predict cash flows.
“Software installations and upgrades are an absolute priority for the whole sector,” says Texeira.
Unfortunately, software implementations come with costs — and not just the direct ones usually associated with such endeavors.
“Although most companies I work with are flexible about training hires with experience using related rather than exact software systems, the increased need for technical skills does reduce the labor pool somewhat,” says Texeira. “Another thing I’ve seen a lot of is these software companies often push additional installation support from their own official consulting wing, which can be more costly than other labor solutions.”
But all is not lost. Perhaps because healthcare and hospital systems have faced such critical shortages in all areas of staffing, not just in financial and accounting services, managers and CFOs need little convincing about the necessity of adjusting the reality of the current labor environment.
As a result, hiring strategies in the healthcare sector tend to probe any and all avenues of potential labor availability, including:
“I rarely have to talk anybody into trying new things,” says Texeira. “Much more often, I’m the one doing the listening to find out what the exact pain points and targeted soft skills are.”
Like all businesses, healthcare systems and hospitals are willing to pay a premium for the perceived dependability that comes from a trusted name. In accounting and finance, often that premium is associated with consultancy-level hiring through a Big-4 audit firm, a particular system software company’s official consulting wing, outsourcing firm or other large-scale provider.
And while healthcare has been more agile than many sectors at generating cost savings by backfilling daily operations with contract labor, there is some wiggle room in pricing between labor outsourcing solutions that are viewed as expensive but dependable and those seen as cheap and quick.
“Whenever they need people, they call us to fulfill daily needs until they can figure out how lean they’ll be able to run,” says Texeira. “But in terms of addressing higher-level needs, we’re often not as expensive as consulting firms, and we can adjust pricing based on labor availability rather than relying on a set rate structure.”
In other words, as much as it may be an effective hiring strategy to aggressively train multiple less experienced probationary hires for internal promotion, it may also be an effective vendor relations strategy to avoid the overhead of premium labor vendors.
While it’s been imperative for healthcare companies to upgrade and integrate new automated systems for multifaceted functions related to billing, the trend toward automation isn’t yet been viewed as a fix-all approach and the use of vendor management systems or AI on the hiring side has not penetrated throughout this industry.
Why not? “It doesn’t work nearly as well as a more relationship-based approach does in a hiring environment where the labor pool is so tight there really isn’t such a thing as a ‘job applicant’ anymore,” says Texeira.
As rapidly as the healthcare industry is automating, it seems its leaders, when faced with a challenging environment for finance and accounting hiring, haven’t forgotten the value of the human touch.If you’re ready to explore hiring options based on your specific pain points and requirements with a partner who thoroughly understands your own specific labor market, contact Aston Carter now for a free conversation.