Letter to the Editor

The impact of the medical staffing industry

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I was taken aback by the article in the Daily Reporter of Aug. 24 covering Governor Kim Reynolds’ visit to GrapeTree in Milford. What was disturbing was the claim that this business will add hundreds of jobs that will benefit our area economically. What the article does not say is that GrapeTree and several other medical staffing agencies in this state are not creating new jobs. Instead they are creating an environment where they are taking workers out of health care jobs and selling the labor back to struggling care facilities at a rate that is double what those facilities are able to pay their own staff. These workers receive only half of the money charged to the facility, and the rest goes to the staffing agency. It’s no wonder GrapeTree is talking about an expansion complete with a fitness area and massage chairs. Meanwhile their markup is literally crippling health care facilities that care for our beloved elderly friends and family.

Who can blame the employees for switching to these staffing agencies, since the pay is better, and they can be selective about their work times? GrapeTree CEO and president Tim Kinnetz is doing nothing illegal. He and others are simply dealing in the economics of supply and demand in a labor market that is getting more and more scarce in rural areas. Yes, it is legal, but is it right?

Nursing facilities in Iowa are already struggling to be sustainable due to changes in our health care system and staggering increases in regulations. The burden that temporary staffing agencies’ inflated rates place on the Medicaid system in terms of direct care costs should concern the governor and all of us. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs from agency staffing leads to nursing homes actually closing as a result. Because nursing homes must meet mandated staffing requirements for the good of their patients, they have no choice but to hire temporary staff who do not know the patients’ needs nearly as well as permanent staff.

Who would you like to be caring for your elderly parents? I know some people who work for staffing agencies, and they are good, professional, skillful people who are just trying to provide for their families. It makes me sad that staffing agencies put them in a position of having to make a choice between lower (but competitive and fair) wages working with people who become their friends, or working for an agency that offers higher pay but places them wherever they are needed, with patients they hardly know.

I encourage those reading this letter to contact your state legislators and the governor, asking them to put a cap on the allowable billable rates by staffing agencies, so that Iowa’s care facilities can compete. The shortage of entry level healthcare workers is not going to get better in Iowa or anywhere else in the U.S. Supplemental staffing agencies were developed by shrewd business people, but they are creating a tremendous burden for the nursing homes that care for your parents and mine.

— Rev. Deb Mechler, Spencer