Recruitment & Retention

How Atlantic Health’s chief diversity officer is seeking to ‘build talent’ post-Covid-19

Armond Kinsey had been with Atlantic Health for less than a year when the pandemic hit, challenging his department to become agile with their staffing.
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Armond Kinsey

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Armond Kinsey had been with Atlantic Health System, one of New Jersey’s largest health systems, for less than a year when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the US. The VP and chief talent and diversity officer says the crisis challenged his team to react quickly to unique staffing challenges, as well as to think more deeply about recruiting and retaining existing talent.

Agile staffing. As Covid-19 started to spread in early 2020, Kinsey and his team turned their attention to making sure their medical centers and hospitals were adequately staffed, as well as keeping employees safe. The nonprofit health system, headquartered in Morristown, NJ, currently employs 18,000 team members, as well as 4,800 physicians.

“We were completely agile in the way we had to staff and the way we had to care for patients,” Kinsey told HR Brew. During the first Covid-19 wave, Atlantic Health relied on traveling nurses from other parts of the country to deliver patient care. The health system also cut back on certain elective surgeries to deal with emergency situations around the coronavirus.

Covid exacerbated recruitment and staffing challenges health systems were already experiencing prior to the pandemic. Covid has spurred Atlantic Health to look at its labor force differently, Kinsey said. “Typically in the world of recruitment and talent acquisition, you build, buy or borrow talent. And I think during the pandemic, we’ve had a little bit of everything.”

Building talent. As of May, the federal health emergency declaration for Covid expired, but it still looms large in the minds of early-career healthcare talent. Kinsey said the virus was a common topic of discussion among Atlantic Health’s 110 interns who worked with the organization this summer.

“Those I’ve met that are interested in either research or going into medical school have an interest in…how we defined priority patients, some of the backdoor conversations that we had to have during the pandemic,” he said.

Now that the worst of the pandemic has subsided, Kinsey said his department is focused on building talent. That means thinking about finding ways to help a cardiovascular technologist train to be a nurse, for example, if that’s something that interests the employee.

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“The labor market is tough right now in healthcare,” he said. “A lot of people want to stay within their organizations, but they want to stay with an opportunity to learn…and to grow.” Atlantic Health offers tuition reimbursements, and is looking into opening a development center that would provide career guidance for staff who are interested in going back to school or earning a certification, according to Kinsey.

Kinsey’s team also seeks to source new hires from a variety of different backgrounds, given he oversees both talent and diversity. Atlantic Health has partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as well as minority professional organizations like the National Medical Association, Black Nurses Association, and Hispanic Nurses Association. He’s in a unique position to hire culturally competent workers, and those who meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients, he said.

While the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action at US universities on Atlantic Health’s talent pipeline might not be immediately visible, Kinsey said he does believe it could have a longer-term impact.

“I don’t think it will discourage young people, young African Americans, young minorities, young women from applying or still trying to get their education,” Kinsey said of the SCOTUS decision. “I think it’s going to, to some degree, push them to be more innovative in the way they do it.”

To that end, he said his team will be keeping a close eye on where diverse talent pursues new education and career opportunities in the future. In some cases, maintaining the pipeline might mean meeting talent at an earlier level—which is why Atlantic Health is currently working on creating a high school program to educate students about available careers in the healthcare field.

“I do think organizations have an opportunity here to step up and help people still meet their dreams and career goals of education,” rather than “wait for the windfall, and then realize the talent’s not there,” Kinsey said of post-affirmative action diversity efforts.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.