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ASHHRA convenes in Tampa to discuss healthcare HR

Hundreds of healthcare human resources executives braved the stifling heat and swarms of Pittsburgh Steelers football fans descending upon Tampa Bay this weekend to attend the 46th annual conference and exposition for the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration.

Rallying the attendees with a football-like “We are ASHHRA” cheer during Sunday’s opening session at the Tampa Convention Center, ASHHRA President Jeffery Payne placed healthcare reform at the top of the organization’s list of priorities, and urged everyone to focus on the fundamentals.

He was supported by a four-day schedule filled with educational sessions devoted to the role of the HR director in the rapidly changing healthcare environment.

“We need to know, we need to be invested and we need to be part of that debate on healthcare reform,” said K. Bruce Stickler, a partner in the Chicago-based law firm of Drinker Biddle who led a Sunday afternoon “Health Care HR Hot Topic” panel session.

Stickler and fellow law partners Stephanie Dodge Gournis and Mark D. Nelson outlined a number of issues facing healthcare HR executives now and in the near future. They include compliance, wage/hour compliance, nursing union organizations, labor issues and social networking.

Gournis said the healthcare industry “has been put on warning” by the U.S. Department of Labor, which is targeting the industry with compliance audits. The past philosophy of “deal with it, cross our fingers and hope it goes away” won’t work at a time when DOL investigators have vowed to get tough on non-compliance, she said.

Nelson touched upon the growing issue of unionization in the nursing force, pointing out that unions won 70 percent of the unionization votes held last year, bringing the total number of nurses under collective bargaining agreements to at least 165,000. He urged HR executives to take a good look at the issues faced by their nurses to determine if unionization might gain a foothold.

“The only time to have a dialogue with your (nurses) is before you get a petition,” he pointed out.

Nelson also touched upon the issue of social networking – one of several topics that was to be explored in more depth during Monday’s sessions. He pointed out that nearly everyone these days has or knows someone who has access to a blog, Facebook or Twitter account, and that legal issues with comments posted on those sites are creeping into the healthcare HR arena.

“For those of you who don’t have a policy, our view is that you have to have one,” he said. “There’s an awareness level that can be taught and needs to be taught regarding employee use of social media.”

Interspersed with the educational sessions were a few keynote speakers. Sunday’s sessions opened with a talk by author and clinical psychologist Henry Cloud, who talked about the successes and pitfalls in developing a good leadership platform. Steven Berkow, a healthcare attorney and head of The Advisory Board Company, was scheduled to speak at Monday’s business meeting breakfast; and Martha Finney, a writer, speaker and consultant specializing in employee engagement and leadership communications, was due to give the closing keynote on Tuesday morning.

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