LHC Group (NASDAQ: LHCG) is stepping up efforts to recruit clinical staff to match the home health and hospice provider’s rate of expansion. The company foresees 8% growth in same-store hospice admissions during 2021 and is rapidly hiring clinicians to keep up with demand.
Hospice providers often face unique recruitment challenges, particularly because medical, nursing, and social work students receive very little exposure to hospice or palliative care during their training. A 2018 study concluded that most students in clinical disciplines do not feel prepared to provide care at the end of life.
LHC Group, however, is bringing staff at near-record levels.
“That really is the question: Making sure that you add clinical staff in anticipation of the growth.” said LHC Group President Joshua Proffitt at the Barclay’s Global Healthcare Conference “We had some of our best hiring months for frontline clinical staff in the months of December, January and February than we have had in years.”
LHC Group’s hospice admissions rose 10.9% during the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to the prior year’s quarter and rose 4.6% sequentially from Q3 of last year. The company’s hospice segment brought in $62.4 million during the fourth quarter of 2020, up from $58.1 million in the prior year’s quarter. For the full-year 2020, the segment earned $243.8 million, up from nearly $227 million in 2019.
These recruitment efforts come at a time when the industry is plagued by widespread staffing shortages that are expected to worsen in coming years.
The aging baby boomer population is both a challenge and an opportunity for hospice. Hospice utilization is rising; a record 51% of Medicare decedents received hospice care during 2019, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. However, many hospice staff members are also approaching retirement, with nearly half of the total nursing workforce expected to retire within the next decade.
As far back as 2008, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (CMS) began allowing hospice providers to use contracted nursing staff because not enough nurses were available to fill permanent positions.
In a recent Hospice News survey, 35% of hospice leaders indicated that the staffing shortage was their No.1 non-COVID related concern for 2021, compared to 16% who cited increased competition. The pandemic has exacerbated many of these issues, as staff are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress, burnout and trauma in the workplace. Many companies are seeing higher rates of turnover.
LHC Group is taking a regional approach to recruitment across each of its service lines. Each service, such as home health or hospice, has dedicated hiring teams that are focused on specific geographic areas.
“We started piloting in the back half of last year and have had real good success in some of these recruiting and orientation pods and hubs that we’ve put out throughout the country,” said LHC Group Chairman & CEO Keith Myers. “We’ve invested a whole lot in this issue and really like the early returns that we’re seeing.”
One LHC Group competitor, Amedisys (NASDAQ: AMED) is also paying close attention to the staffing shortage. Amedisys indicated that it was using data analytics solutions to enhance staff retention, with a system that predicts with 80% accuracy when an employee is likely to leave their employment.
LHC Group’s work to bolster its workforce goes behind hiring alone. The company is collaborating with nursing schools to develop clinical career paths in the home health and hospice fields, as well as facilitating discounted tuition in some cases.
“The [referral] volume is there, and this isn’t going away,” Proffitt said. “You’ve got to have the capacity through your clinical workforce to take care of that volume.”