Headhunters beat the drums for rehab pros

Thursday, June 30, 2005

YARMOUTH, Maine -- Medicare and Medicaid efforts to raise industry standards have spurred fierce competition for certified rehab professionals -- especially those with deep referral source relationships.
"There has been head-hunting going on for a long time, but it is really coming into play now," said Jerry Keiderling, vice president of VGM's U.S. Rehab. "When starting or building a company, [people] want to make sure they are OK from the get-go. Rather than going through the expense of training people, they would rather hire them away."
Most of the competition seems to be for rehab sales people who have passed RESNA's assistive technology supplier (ATS) exam. The worry seems to be that as Medicare and Medicaid move to raise provider standards, companies without RESNA and/or NRRTs qualified staff on board may be barred from doing business with the payers.
Providers don't mind the move to greater professionalism, but some resent hiring and training an employee only to have another company lure that staffer away with more money and other benefits.
"I don't expect someone to call after I've invested two or three years in time and money and salary to get an employee up to par," said Mike Daniels, ATS, CRTS, who owns Acute Rehab in Valdosta, Ga.
Recently, a headhunter called Daniels and, not knowing he was the company owner, tried to hire him away.
"What really aggravates me is that he wanted to know who my referral sources were and if they would be coming with me -- that is stealing with me," Daniels said.
The competition for ATS certified sales people is easy to explain: Referral sources typically refer to the sales person and not the company. If a competitor hires away an ATS, a good chunk of business could also disappear, Daniels said.
Daniels and others also worry that increased competition for ATSs could push salaries to a level small providers can't afford.
"You can understand the angst a person feels when they lose a trained person, but they have to pay them what the market demands," said Darren Jernigan, director of government affairs for Permobil, a strong supporter of increased rehab standards. "You cannot not promote professionalism because there are not enough ATSs out there.".
Currently, there are 905 credentialed ATS, according to RESNA. In the past two years, the number of people sitting for the exam has increased significantly. For example, between 2000 and 2002, about 130 people annually took the ATS exam. In 2003, that number jumped to 242, and to 262 in 2004. About 62% of those who take the test pass it, according to RESNA.
Daniels isn't alone in likening aggressive headhunting for RTSs to poaching. Others, however, others see it differently. People hire quality employees everyday -- it's called competition, they say, adding that supply and demand drives salaries.
"You can keep your employees from wanting to go elsewhere by providing good working conditions and reasonable benefits," said Dan Lipka, NRRTS chairman. "But even still, people will move. Things change. They get tired of the cold or hot air or a spouse takes a job somewhere else. All those things happen."