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The Chippewa Valley is part of a nationwide tussle for health care talent. The Valley’s hospitals must compete against both deeply rural and large urban areas. Surprisingly, deeply rural areas sometimes offer the highest wages, as doctors’ average salaries are the highest in the Great Plains states like Nebraska and the Dakotas, where patient loads tend to be larger due to fewer per capita doctors, and their salaries are subsidized by National Health Service Corps, an HHS agency. Some hospitals in big cities, on the other hand, attract targeted talent with free housing or beefy sign-on bonuses. An example is Inova Health System in Washington, D.C., which has offered nurses with at least two years of critical care experience a $20,000 sign-on bonus and up to $20,000 in reimbursable relocation costs.

Demographic Drivers

Healthcare magazine describes the tussle for health care talent as a “war” and it’s likely to get worse, due to demographics. Millions of Baby Boomer health care workers are retiring while tens of millions of Baby Boomers, more than a quarter of the U.S. population, need evermore health care as they age. According to the American Nurses Association, the U.S. will need more than one million new registered nurses by 2022.

Demographically, the good news is that the millennials are nearly equal in size to the Baby Boomer generation. However, the nation’s 75 million millennials are more likely to move from job to job. According to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers, 91 percent of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years, which compounds into 15-20 jobs over the course of a career. Nursing turnover predates the millennials, as a 2005 poll found that the average turnover rate for RNs was 13.9 percent. This turnover trend is especially problematic for hospitals, where health care workers have traditionally acquired essential experience by working for the same organization for decades, allowing hospitals to accrue precious experience. So, how do the Valley’s hospitals compete, in both recruiting and retaining their healthcare workers?


arshfield Clinic Health System (MCHS)

The Marshfield Clinic Health System (MCHS) is among the largest medical systems in Wisconsin. It currently employs more than 700 physicians, 400 mid-level providers, and more than 9,500 staff systemwide. It offers advanced care in more than 80 specialties and sub-specialties and provides medical service to more than two million Wisconsin residents annually, as well as patients from every state and more than 40 countries last year. MCHS’s Valley footprint is large, with urgent care in Eau Claire and Lake Hallie, a hospital in Rice Lake, and clinics in Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Menomonie, as well as many other western Wisconsin towns.

It’s building a new hospital in Eau Claire, and a new hospital needs new workers. MCHS is in the process of hiring more than 300 employees to launch this new hospital, including 72 nursing positions and 13 new physicians. The Marshfield Medical Center–Eau Claire, 44-bed, 213,000 square foot facility, will be at the corner of Clairemont Avenue and Stein Boulevard. This facility is on schedule to open in summer 2018 and will offer advanced hospital care including cardiovascular surgery, advanced spine surgery, 24/7 emergency medicine, critical care, inpatient/outpatient oncology care, and much more.

MCHS has a hiring advantage because of the proximity of UW-Eau Claire, Chippewa Valley Technical College and UW-Stout, as many professionals elect to work close to where they were raised or where they were trained. MCHS is proactive in engaging nurses in training.

Matt Schneider, CFRE, Regional Communications Manager for MCHS, said, “Marshfield Clinic Health System has partnered with the UW-EC School of Nursing to offer an opportunity to earn a bachelors of nursing degree at our Marshfield Medical Center site in Marshfield. This is a great chance to build relationships and engage nurses early in the process about opportunities within our system.”

MCHS also holds recruitment events in the Valley and is present at job fairs at technical colleges and universities throughout Wisconsin, although certain positions are recruited nationally. Additional cash is sometimes used.

Heidi Kramer, Recruitment and Retention Manager for MCHS said, “For some positions, we offer recruitment bonuses to help attract top tier candidates.”

There’s also tuition assistance and continuing education and the bennies are also top tier.

Kramer said, “We have a strong total compensation and benefit package as well as many opportunities to grow and promote within the health system.”

Recruitment is also assisted by MCHS’s reputation within the healthcare sector and its size, which means opportunities for lateral and horizontal movement.

Scott Polenz, CPA, MBA, Chief Administrative Officer, Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire, said, “Marshfield Clinic Health System has a great reputation, a strong sense of mission and purpose, and a broad spectrum of positions available for those seeking meaningful work.”

Brand spanking new hospitals are rare gifts, so being there at the very beginning has powerful appeal.

Polenz said, “The opportunity to help launch a brand new hospital is a once in a career opportunity. We’re looking for people who want to make that experience part of their career.”

The Valley assists

The overall quality of one’s life is also a huge determiner of where one chooses to work. Three hours of daily commuting in bumper to bumper traffic is a powerful disincentive, while working in a valley of glittering rivers and lakes is powerfully appealing.

Kramer said, “The Chippewa Valley sells itself. It’s an amazing place to live. The area has fantastic schools, restaurants, shopping, affordable housing, as well as booming arts and cultural options. The universities and technical college bring a great vibe to the area and we’re a short car ride away from the Twin Cities, if you’re looking for something only a major metro area can offer.”

Specifically, Eau Claire is big enough to offer many restaurants and major retailers, as well as bike paths and parks, but small enough to feel cozy and comfortable.

Polenz said, “I was born and raised in Eau Claire, and this is where I am raising my family. The Eau Claire area has everything you could really want and need, and small enough to have a great sense of community. I’ve looked at opportunities across the country and have not found a better place to be.”

As the Valley gives, MCHS wants to reciprocate the gift.

Polenz said, “By integrating hospitals into a care model with our health plan and established physicians, we have proven through demonstration projects and practical application that we can improve outcomes and the patient’s experience, while making care more affordable. Eau Claire has historically been one of the most expensive healthcare markets in Wisconsin and our vision is to help bend that cost curve over time. I believe we will attract people that want to be part of that.”


Whatever the allure of the Valley and however attractive launching a new hospital is, turnover is inevitable, sometimes triggered by promotions.

Kramer said, “Our front-line and service positions can be difficult to keep filled as there is often potential for growth and development within the system itself. Great employees routinely demonstrate initiative and learn new skill sets that prepare them to apply for transfer or promotion to other opportunities in the organization.”

And some positions are inherently harder to fill.

Kramer said, “Positions in highest need can vary over time, though often include nurses and patient care support technicians with experience and training in the areas of neuro, trauma, cardiac care, and other care areas.”

So, the key is keeping those key employees and a flexible organization helps keep those employees in place.

Polenz said, “Once we have a great employee, we make every effort to help them find their fit and happiness within the System. If employees are looking for a change, for whatever reason, we work with them to provide opportunities to grow their skills and experience, advance to new responsibilities, or diversify their role within Marshfield Clinic Health System.”

HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s

HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and St. Joseph’s aren’t building a new hospital, but they have the same attracting and retaining challenges as do hospitals from New York City to Los Angeles. Although HSHS has been serving patients in the Chippewa Valley and beyond for 130 years in a manner that follows Franciscan tradition, there’s nothing stodgy about how they hire and keep talent.

Layton Anderson, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital Chief Human Resources Officer, said, “Our hospital system offers a variety of incentives including student loan repayment programs, tuition reimbursement, a comprehensive benefit plan, competitive wages, colleague recognition events, a values-based work environment, and a colleague referral program.”

There’s also the allure of values.

“We are a faith-based organization, which is centered on delivering quality care to all people, especially the poor and marginalized. Our Franciscan health care ministry is an attractive quality. Our mission, vision, and values focus on caring for all patients and fellow colleagues in a respected and compassionate manner.”

The HSHS values and consequent reputation can obviate recruiting.

“Often word of mouth about our positive atmosphere is what motivates candidates to apply with our organization. The very best way to recruit qualified candidates is to make sure you have a great place to work. If candidates can see that your workplace provides growth opportunities, gives colleagues lifelong learning opportunities, such as supporting nurse certification, you’ll have people who don’t just want to work here but who want to do their best work here.”

Need and Retention

HSHS’s reputation attracts health care workers, but some slots are harder to fill.

“Health care career opportunities are cyclical. It’s typical to see high need in an area now, but in five or ten years, that area may be saturated. Currently, the areas of imaging and critical care are difficult to fill because both are highly competitive and specialized. Imaging positions are also difficult to retain because there’s competition from not only other hospitals but also clinics and small, boutique health care organizations.”

And some MD slots are harder to fill.

“The most in-demand medical professionals are family practice and neurology physicians.”

As with MCHS’s new hospital, Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s are conveniently situated.

“We provide the opportunities of a larger city with a small-town feel. The Chippewa Valley is a rapidly growing area with diverse opportunities. For those seeking the big city atmosphere, Minneapolis and St. Paul are just down the road for a day trip or weekend adventure.”

Growth and New Positions

Despite the appeal of the Valley and the appealing values of HSHS, expansion means that recruitment and retention will always be timely.

“Recent expansions in Wound Care services, increased geography of Home Health, the introduction of a bariatric surgery program, and L.E. Phillips-Libertas Treatment Center’s new affiliation with the Hazelden Betty Ford Patient Care Network all have the potential to add future healthcare jobs in the Chippewa Valley.”

Upgrades will require adding staff with particular expertise.

“We are also excited to bring an enhanced birth center to our hospitals, which includes the best-of-the-best technology such as a birth sling option, which can reduce the need for a cesarean section.”

And the ranks of certain roles require perpetual replenishment.

“There will always be a need for nurses, therapists, technicians and more.”

Most of the time, HSHS looks locally first.

“Our hospitals recognize the importance of partnerships within the community as we collaborate with the best talent the Chippewa Valley has to offer. We focus on finding the best of the best and often those professionals are right here in our backyard, which we can do because we are blessed with exceptional higher education facilities in our area.”

As many Millennials have a proclivity for moving from job to job, the Valley’s hospitals attract and retain new hires the-old fashioned way, by fashioning workplaces where healthcare workers can move from job to job within the organization, thus staying engaged. Of course, tuition reimbursement and signing bonuses also help!

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