Can Private Recruiters Save the Veteran’s Administration?

It’s Fall. You might not, however, recognize it in Louisiana. In a state where the leaves don’t turn and residents are unfamiliar with rain galoshes and snow tires, it’s just another hot day. Swimming pools are still in use, people are wearing shorts and men in the streets seek relief from a blazing sun.

Sadly, many of those darting from tree to tree in the noonday heat sport caps that say “VETERAN” or “POW/MIA.” Some remove shirts that advertise their particular war and others show obvious signs of combat. Looking weak in the heat, one is left to wonder if these men, many homeless, are aware of the growing controversy that engulfs the American Veteran’s Administration in this state and others.

In Louisiana, the head of Veteran’s Affairs, David LaCerte, just stepped down after a probe revealed that not only were there multiple abuses in procedure at nursing homes, but that there also existed no plan to correct problems when identified. Millions of dollars appear to have been mishandled and Louisiana now joins the line of states that have failed or taken advantage of this great nation’s fighting men.

In Montana (where the third largest population of veterans per capita reside), men and women needing care are unlikely to receive it in a timely manner. One in six positions are unfilled at VA hospitals. That leaves over 41,000 jobs needing to be filled by critical intake workers, doctors and nurses. According to journalist Megan Hoyer, “complex hiring procedures and poor recruitment” are to blame.

Critics see this pattern as unlikely to change unless something is done. Many have theorized that the first step in rectifying the crisis that exists at the Veteran’s Administration might lie in the private sector. Could it be that with the assistance of professional, private, retained recruiting firms, much needed staff could be attracted to fill the void that is leaving veterans to suffer?

I posed this question to Van Allen, who for over a decade has been a leader in the medical recruitment industry. His approach, seemingly different from whatever the government is doing (or not doing), has been seen as both innovative and effective. With his guidance, hospitals who felt little hope of attracting staff to their particular location or program have flourished. Matching medical candidates with the right hospital, it appears, is an art.

One can’t help but hear disdain for the current governmental failures in his voice as he discusses America’s servicemen and their current plight. Answers, he believes, are available and uncomplicated. Could privatization of the hiring process be the answer that saves veterans and the Veteran’s Administration of the United States? Without it, is there any hope for the many rural (and even not-so-rural) plans to construct new facilities that will provide care for the waiting? Van Allen granted this interview:

Q: Hoyer, in her article about the problems within the Veterans Administration, describes “poor recruiting” as the cause. How can the nation’s largest health care system have a problem attracting qualified professionals?

A: There are a number of reasons why they struggle to recruit permanent provider staff.

1. The pay is subpar as compared to national standards. The VA likes to offset their dismal compensation with great “quality of life” benefits It is true that the physicians who work directly for the VA get a generous amount of PTO and are eligible for a lot of national holidays, but this creates an environment that is counterproductive to what you would see in private practice. So, there are less patients being seen because the providers are not incentivized to see more patients. Consequently, you have patients that can’t get into the available providers and are suffering as a result.

2. Recruiting is a function of numbers. If a recruiter interacts with enough qualified candidates and shares his message with enough providers, that recruiter will have success. In this highly competitive environment, there is a massive shortage of PCP’s (Primary Care Providers). This shortage is not going away any time soon, adding fuel to the fire. If the VA’s internal recruiting mechanism is going to have success, they will have to train their staff to utilize some different resources to realize their goals. Recruiting is NOT an 8-4:30 job. It takes a lot of dedication and an enormous amount of time to get good at it. When I hire young recruiters, I am committed to training them for a year before they can be expected to be effective. There is a large learning curve and lots of moving parts related to the art of recruiting. If you don’t have staff willing to commit to success, it will be a long road.

3. I think by and large, most people want to be part of something that is truly making a difference in people’s lives. When you have an organization that has a PR nightmare on its hands like the VA, it is difficult to recruit top-talent. There is plenty of blame to go around and this is not the place and time to point fingers at why we are in this mess, but take the actions necessary to fix the problems. Providers don’t want to associate with an organization that is not making the corrections needed to right the ship.

Q: Does Locum Tenens hiring help solve the problem?

A: Temporary staffing is making two parties very wealthy and emptying out the pockets of the VA system. It’s truly a Band-Aid approach that only slows down the bleeding. It will never serve as a long-term fix. The VA does have very high standards in terms of how they hire, and those difficult hiring standards make it difficult to push great candidates through the hiring system. It is much easier to use a Locums company and utilize their physician staff. This relieves you of some of the liability because if something goes “not as planned” with a patient you can always blame it on a Locums company.

Q: Were you aware that veterans are not only dying from illness, but committing suicide in unfathomable numbers while waiting for health care?

I know the VA has a lot of challenges and the only thing that is going to change the system is this: Give someone at the top some autonomy to do the right thing! This includes holding staff accountable with quick reviews for quality of care and the ability to discipline appropriately. Primarily, what is needed is for the feds to work in conjunction with capable recruiters who will recruit permanent providers that take ownership in their care for our military’s finest.

Q: Many VA hospitals are located in areas that may be considered rural or unattractive to a medical professional. You have become famous in the recruiting world for attracting doctors to these locations. The VA has failed. What did you do to succeed?

A: Three thing sell any product; Exposure, Repetition, and Execution. It’s a function of numbers. My recruiting firms have numerous recruiters that are dialing the phone all day and into the evenings and who are always introducing opportunities in very remote parts of the country. We have tremendous success. If you give an opportunity enough exposure and repeat the message enough times, you will find the right person for the right opportunity. If you are simply relying on a couple of job boards and a job fair to ensure your success, you will likely fail. The VA hopes that by expanding job listings on the internet, the right candidate will come to them. This is unlikely to happen.

Unlikely? Perhaps Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said it best when he remarked that “veterans deserve better.” It would be rare to find the person who disagrees. Harder to find would be the person who could fathom that search warrants would be served in homes providing care for veterans (this just happened in the state).

It was just last October that Robert A. McDonald (himself embroiled in controversy) said that the problems facing the VA are serious. He is the 8th United States Secretary of Veterans affairs. When originally appointed, he made his goals for the administration concise. It was his intent to rebuild trust with Veterans and stakeholders, improve service delivery and set a course for long-term excellence.

If this sounds like the corporate-speak of an individual in the private world, you would be right. McDonald is the retired Chairman, President and CEO of Proctor and Gamble. One can only assume that he now finds himself in a much different environment with a much different hierarchy and reward system. Is he, however, brave enough to admit that the tenets of privatization might be what is finally needed to save the VA? Van Allen seems to believe this is the path to progress.

The latest Veteran’s Administration scandal, involving homes, administered care and procedures, happens almost on the eve of the Louisiana Governor’s bid to win Iowa. He won’t be the first governor or appointee to have to place the condition of national VA institutions in the “dread” category. Allen seems to think that by hiring private recruiting firms and lessening the federal hiring and overseeing power at the VA, conditions would improve and possibly flourish.

Q: Post-hiring, does a firm like yours follow-up with quality checks?

A: We do conduct a thorough background check on our candidates. Legally, we are not allowed to access the NPDB (Data Bank) because we do not directly employ candidates. However, we do verify state licensing and board certification. We also require each candidate we are working with provide us with 6 professional references. In conjunction with this effort, our staff is trained to use all social media to turn over every stone to make sure we are providing the best candidates.

Q: Have you examined medical hiring within the Veteran’s Administration system?

Why has it produced a crisis for the very men and women who deserve help from this country the most?

A: I know the VA has invested millions of dollars into their recruiting efforts but dollars alone will not solve this problem. They have enhanced their job board and they have certainly increased their exposure but they simply can’t recruit at the rate they need to, to keep up with the amount of new patients entering the system. The VA system is the largest healthcare system in the US and the demand for quality physicians has never been higher. My perception of the VA when I was growing up as a kid, was that was a place for WWII and Vietnam Veterans go when they are sick or need medical attention. Although there is some truth in that, the VA has turned into something much larger than that. The amount of patients needing care has spiked to new levels and the complexity of their conditions has only grown deeper. There is a much higher influx of female patients. So there are simply not enough physicians being recruited to accommodate the patient demand and the problem is only going to worsen unless something is done.

Q: What could you do to rectify the problems?

A: There are 4 areas I would focus on if I were asked to compliment what is already being done in the VA recruiting efforts.

1. Sourcing- Sourcing candidates is certainly the dirty work in the recruiting world. Sourcing candidates takes a laser-like focus that you place on a specific pool of candidates. Then, you alert them of your available opportunities. There are many ways to accomplish this task. Some recruiting firms rely heavily on direct mail campaigns. Some like to utilize job boards. Our firm leans on technology and embraces some old school techniques to source candidates for specific opportunities. We have the most sophisticated and largest database in the industry. This allows us to get the message to a larger candidate pool at a quicker rate. My recruiting staff also makes an enormous amount of cold calls daily because you can’t just sit by your phone waiting for a medical professional to call you. Recruiters at our firm will make in excess of 200 dials a day trying to find someone that is willing to speak to them. We do this in concert with launching You Tube video’s, landing pages, E-blasts, and any other social media vehicles available to us.

2. Screening- Screening a candidate is a function of getting to know the provider at many levels. It’s impossible to know if you have the right person for the job if you haven’t spent adequate time vetting the candidate. We don’t waste the time of our clients. When we send a candidate over to our opportunities for review they have been fully vetted and they are ready to make a decision. This saves time and lets everyone focus on the task at hand. When we are finished screening a candidate, we know their immediate family, we understand their background and what got us to this point. We also understand their behavioral and motivational competencies, their work habits and what gets them out of bed each day. We ensure the candidate compliments the client’s philosophy. Screening is a critical phase of the recruiting process and is often taken for granted so many times.

3. Presenting- If you have screened the candidate thoroughly, you should be equipped with the information needed to deliver a custom presentation that elicits the type of response you are seeking. Presenting is not a function of reading a list of fun facts but rather is the ability to tell a story with passion, conviction, and excitement. The art of presenting an opportunity must emote incredible excitement. A skilled recruiter has an uncanny ability to connect and capture the attention of the candidate with their voice. Just reading a canned presentation will never accomplish the goal. Presenting is NOT possessing the gift of gab but rather possessing the ability to take the information you have on your candidate and weaving that into your story. This is what separates an average recruiter from highly successful recruiter.

4. Closing- Closing never happens if you haven’t successfully sourced, screened, and presented the candidate. There is an old adage called ABC (always be closing) and it is never as true as it is in physician recruiting. From the moment a talented recruiter gets on the phone with a candidate he/she is slowly building momentum for the closing moment. There should be frequent trial closings throughout the process to insure a candidate is not simply “kicking tires.” There are many warning signs along the way if you are in tune with the process. My recruiters are trained on how to develop that ear and ultimately are trained on helping candidates make the right decision as it relates to your opportunities.

As of this writing, it has been revealed that the VA has spent $6.3 million on sculptures and fountains for their hospitals. Simply imagine if only a part of that money had been dispersed to a company like Allen’s HIRE CONNECTION. Would we be seeing more doctors, nurses and caring professionals streaming in to the system to repair limbs, concussed heads and damaged psyches? What if the almost 2 million dollars spent on art and art consulting services by the Monterey Health Center had been placed in the hands of this capable recruiter? Would we worry less about soldiers? See less homeless in the streets? See far-less waiting-time for those in despair?

The time is now to speak up for every veteran who has risked his life for your own. Contact your senator (info. can be found here and learn more about Van Allen and the HIRE CONNECTION and how retained recruiting firms are a necessary must-add to the federal plan by contacting or by calling 1.866.661.4473.

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