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Hospitals recruits with cash

"Apparently, good X-ray and ultrasound technicians are hard to find these days. That's why the board of commissioners at Whidbey General Hospital took an unusual step this week and decided to start offering $5,000 sign-on incentives to help fill what's described as a critical need at the hospital.Currently, Whidbey General is short three X-ray technologists and two ultrasonographers in its Diagnostic Imaging Department, where services like X-rays, ultrasounds, mamograms, CAT scans and MRI's are performed. And those shortages have been keenly felt by the other 19 employees within the department, said diagnostic imaging manager Ed Wertz. It hasn't affected the quality of care but there's been lots of overtime, a lot of people working long shifts and managers working long hours to fill those needs, Wertz said last Thursday.The need for radiologic technologists, or RTs, isn't limited to Whidbey General, or even Washington. With more young people opting for better-paying computer careers and an increasingly older population driving a need for more imaging services, many hospitals are feeling the pinch.According to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation will need 50,000 more RTs by 2006.Trouble is, imaging education programs aren't producing enough graduates to meet that demand.The American Society for Radiologic Technologists reported recently that the number of specialty education programs dropped form 125 in 1994 to 81 in 1998. There are fewer and fewer people applying and wages are lower compared to those in the computer industry, Wertz said, adding that technologists have skills that would fit nicely with a company like Microsoft.On average, entry-level RT's earned a little more than $25,000 in 1998, according to an ASRT survey. And the problem with ultrasound is that there are only two schools in the state of Washington, Wertz added. And they take 20 students a year and about 300 people apply for those 40 slots each year. Whidbey General CEO Scott Rhine said the hospital has been responding to the shortage of RTs by using temporary agencies to try and fill the vacancies.But it's much more costly because we're paying the agency and paying lodging for the temporary workers, he said.So now, Whidbey General is offering sign-on incentives, described by Rhine as an extremely unusual move.We feel that normally we can use other methods because of our location and the desirability of working on Whidbey Island, Rhine said. This is the first time to my knowledge that we have offered this type of incentive to employees.New RTs will get $5,000 for signing on with the hospital but will have to refund the money if they quit or are let go within one year.In addition, Rhine said the hospital would pay $1,000 to any current employee who refers an ultrasound or X-ray technologist to Whidbey General provided the new employee stays at least a year.Wertz said that considering the scarcity of newly trained RTs in the workplace and the critical need for the hospital, he'll take pains to keep any new employees.We hope to get some new techs before they're all gone, he said. And once we do, we'll keep them real happy."

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