Saturday, June 10, 2000

Nurses hired globally to work locally

Maple Knoll planning to bring nurses from the Philippines

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For some health-care providers, one solution to the Tristate nursing shortage may be found halfway around the planet.

        This fall, after nearly three years of set-up work, Maple Knoll Village expects to start importing nurses from the Philippines to work in Greater Cincinnati.

        The first few nurses to be recruited would work for Maple Knoll, which operates a large nursing home at its Springdale retirement complex. But the ultimate goal is to bring as many as 100 nurses a year to the Tristate who could work at any hospital, nursing home or other service that needs them.

        The Philippine recruitment project is the most unusual of several efforts to increase the nursing supply in Greater Cincinnati.

        Other projects include a new scholarship program for Northern Kentucky high school graduates, a new mentoring program for Xavier University nursing graduates, an effort at Mercy Health Partners to eliminate temporary nursing staff, and a summit on nursing retention to be held in late summer or early fall.

        The Philippine project is the brainchild of Alex Keller, a retired Procter & Gamble executive who now serves as a trustee of Maple Knoll Village in Springdale. In the 1980s, Mr. Keller managed P&G's Philippine subsidiary for two years. Since then, he has maintained business contacts there.

        The plan calls for bringing experienced, English-speaking nurses to Ohio, where they would take a state exam to become registered nurses.

        “Many Filipinos would love to come to America. For them, an American salary is like hitting the lottery,” Mr. Keller said.

        Yet this is not an effort to replace American nurses with cheap labor.

        “People will have to pay (the Filippino nurses) the same rates they pay anybody else,” Mr. Keller said. “The advantage will be hiring people who can be counted on staying here for a while and who won't complain about having to work weekends.”

        The first two or three nurses are expected to arrive in Cincinnati in September, with the goal of beginning work on Oct. 1 — the start of a new federal fiscal year and the opening of a new supply of foreign work visas.

        This is the first time Maple Knoll has tried to recruit foreign nurses. The nursing home is taking a chance because the difficulty in hiring nurses for night and weekend shifts has become extreme.

        “In our case, we're spending more than $1 million a year on staffing agency costs,” said Nancy Hamann, vice president of Maple Knoll Management Inc., a unit of Southwestern Ohio Seniors' Services Inc., the non-profit company that owns Maple Knoll Village.

        If the first nurses get here smoothly, by year's end, Maple Knoll hopes to bring Filippino nurses here in groups of 20 to 40 at a time. The non-profit company would collect a fee for nurses hired by local health-care providers, Ms. Hamann said.

        Importing foreign labor to address a local shortage has been tried before in Greater Cincinnati, but with minimal success. In early 1994, a shortage of physical therapists prompted several hospitals to make a recruiting trip to the Netherlands.

        By October 1994, two Dutch therapists had passed state exams and were hired by local hospitals. Another two came over but ended up practicing outside Ohio.

        “In the past we've been able to jump through all the hoops at the international and federal levels. The biggest barriers ended up being right here at home,” Mrs. Olman said. “The state licensing board (for physical therapists) just kept putting up one technical barrier after another.”

        The state hassles were so bad that two therapists brought over to practice in Ohio eventually left for other states where resistance was less intense, Mrs. Olman said.

        While supporting the idea of importing nurses, Mrs. Olman wondered whether it can be pulled off.

        “The question,” Mrs. Olman said, “is how willing will the licensing agency in Ohio be to accommodating rapid processing of these applications?”

        As for recruiting health workers from the Philippines, other U.S. health-care companies have tried it with mixed results. A nursing home operator in Michigan warned Ms. Hamann about corruption among Philippine recruiting agencies.

        Mr. Keller said some of those concerns have been justified.

        “For a while the supply dried up because nurses were afraid to sign up. Some recruitment agencies mistreated people, misrepresented themselves or stole money,” he said.

        To avoid such concerns, Mr. Keller and three partners started their own Philippine recruitment company called Caregivers Plus International. To further reduce fears of exploitation, nurses won't be expected to pay fees to get to America — their employers will.

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