Dr. Tiffany Jenkins and Dr. Joe Danna, Metroplex Hospital medical director, discuss a patient’s chart while working at the hospital Friday in Killeen.

By Rebecca Rose
Killeen Daily Herald

As the demand for quality health care continues to rise, Central Texas hospitals are increasing services and programs, creating a need for quality workers to fill the positions.

The Texas Workforce Commission, which tracks job sector growth throughout the state, named health services as the No. 1 job area for growth in the next five years.

At Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Marc Hallee, chief human resources officer, has 850 open positions in the sprawling medical complex in Temple.

More than 500 of those job vacancies are clinical positions, with the need for registered nurses topping the list. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacy and technician positions are also open at the hospital.

Hallee said at least another 350 openings are available in non-clinical positions, including customer service, food service and facility maintenance.

The increase in job openings reflects the growth in demand for quality health care, and not just in the area, he said.

“The health care sector is growing nationally, and it’s growing a little faster in Central Texas,” he said. “The biggest driving force is a demographic force.”

The surge in population of aging baby boomers is creating a need for health care that meets their needs, especially in Central Texas. Hallee said with more and more retirees opting to live in the area, health care institutions are offering more services.

“Retired people have increased health care demands, which means providers grow as well,” he said.

At Seton Medical Center in Harker Heights, plans are under way to hire as many as 300 people before the hospital opens June 18.

Mona Tucker, director of human resources, said current positions include a manager of environmental services, X-ray technicians, respiratory therapists, phlebotomists, cooks and radiology technicians. Departments such as maintenance, patient registration and emergency also have openings.

On Feb. 1, Seton launched an applicant tracking system, available to access through a link on its website. Applicants can sign up to receive email job alerts.

“We don’t want patients waiting a long time, and we want to be prepared for volume,” said Tucker, of the push to fill so many jobs before opening.

Tucker said at least 95 percent of applicants are from Killeen, Harker Heights, Temple, Belton and Waco — a sign that not only is the area a hotbed for jobs but it’s also a source for skilled workers.

Central Texas schools, coupled with the proximity to Fort Hood, are named as some of the biggest reasons why Killeen is producing health care workers.

Retired and former soldiers with health care experience top the list of job seekers with the skills employers are looking for.

“You see a lot of former or retired military physicians in this area,” said Carlyle Walton, Metroplex Health System’s president and chief executive officer. “People who served at (Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center) or worked at Fort Hood, they get to know the area while they’re stationed here.”

A competitive cost of living makes the area an attractive place to retire or settle down, said Walton.

“Many of our physicians trained in the military or worked in the military and then decided to stay (after they left service),” said Walton. “That makes recruiting a little easier.”

Tucker said many applicants at Seton are retired or former soldiers, who are well educated and still relatively young.

Jobs in the medical sector are attractive to military spouses facing frequent changes in duty stations, said Tucker.

“A lot of military spouses become radiologists, nurses, respiratory therapists, because they can find those jobs anywhere,” she said.

Military spouses can access local nursing programs at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Temple College and Central Texas College. They are able to finish their education while a spouse is assigned to Fort Hood, creating a readily available pool of qualified candidates.

Walton said schools are a breeding ground for respiratory therapists and lab and X-ray technicians — jobs that are all in high demand in area hospitals.

And it’s not just the hospitals themselves creating the demand for employees in and around Killeen.

The sheer number of direct health care providers has resulted in the area becoming a draw for ancillary medical services.

“The growth has caused (other businesses) to want to be located here as well,” said Hallee. “Other complementary medical markets, such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices and others, have moved in, creating more demand for qualified workers.”

But the need for employees doesn’t mean employers are desperate to fill vacancies.

The volume of applicants means health sector employers, now more than ever, can afford to be relentlessly scrutinizing.

Hallee, who receives between 100 and 300 applications per day, said even small factors can disqualify a candidate.

“When you’re looking at a lot of applications coming in every day, little things do matter a lot,” he said. “Applicants need to pay attention to details. Get rid of typos, make it clear what your objective is. Those things really are important.”

Employers are willing to hold out to find the perfect fit.

“What’s challenging is that, when we’re looking at director-level positions, we prefer candidates who have already opened up a hospital,” said Tucker.

With Seton set to be a paperless facility, recruiters want candidates who are advanced in other skills to complement the new technology.

Hallee agreed with the desire to be thorough. “When you have that many applicants, you have the luxury of being able to select from a wide labor pool. Every little thing matters.”

Hallee said for the area to continue to provide quality health care, the industry must have quality workers.

“We are taking care of patients at the toughest times in their lives,” he said. “(Employees) have to go beyond just having the required experience. We want to know that person is paying attention to detail, that they emulate our values, and that they understand their role.”