Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Reducing Turnover by Appealing to Novices and Veterans Alike

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Reducing Turnover by Appealing to Novices and Veterans Alike

Article excerpt

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers (LMRC) is a family-owned addiction treatment company that offers adult and adolescent residential treatment in 2 facilities and outpatient treatment in 11 offices along the Puget Sound corridor. Celebrating our 25th anniversary this year, we are proud that we provide "effective, affordable treatment" to almost 4,000 patients and their families annually.

At the end of 2006, my management team and I performed our usual review of key performance benchmarks. Everything looked positive: Revenues were up; the patient population grew; and managed care relations were stable. One benchmark, however, was disturbing: We suffered a 30% turnover in our clinical staff.

It is not news to anyone managing addiction treatment programs that finding capable clinicians is daunting. More than one expert has called the dearth of professionals in the field acrisis. We found ample proof of the counselor shortage in our own region. A survey of 263 programs by the Northwest Frontier Addiction Technology Transfer Center (NFATTC) revealed that 40% of agency directors reported significant clinical understaffing; 83% regarded the lack of qualified applicants as the biggest obstacle in recruitment. According to the Washington Department of Health, the certifying agency for chemical dependency counselors in the state, only 130 new chemical dependency professional certificates were awarded in 2006, and 125 counselors chose not to renew their certification. NFATTC also found that the average clinician turnover rate in Washington State was 26%-ours was higher (30%). Clearly we are in a flourishing industry with a profession that is waning.

To address our turnover rate, we began by looking at who left our company (examining their level of experience, years with LMRC, etc.) and why. We also surveyed our current counselors to learn what they liked and disliked about working at LMRC. Our work yielded these key conclusions:

* Among resigning staff, more clinicians left outpatient programs (67%) versus inpatient centers (37%).

* Three outpatient programs registered a noticeably higher turnover rate than others.

* One-third of counselors who resigned were trainees in their positions less than a year while another 23% had less than two years of experience at LMRC. One-third of those who left had been at LMRC for three years or more.

* Too many exiting employees (38%) cited "communication problems with supervisors" as their reason for leaving.

* More communication with management and among programs was cited as the number-one suggestion by 21 % of the respondents to our survey.

We clearly were facing a multidimensional problem that required multidimensional solutions. Our goal was to reduce clinician turnover by 33% (from 30 to 20%). The entire management team was involved.

One priority was to focus on the experienced, capable clinicians who are the "anchors" of their programs but often are unrecognized. We created a mentorship program that would tap this group's experience and recognize their value to the company. Seventeen clinicians were named mentors. Their job was to take new trainees under their wing for a week or more and let the new staff shadow them daily. For each trainee they shepherded mentors received a $250 bonus. …

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