9 1/2 Questions: A conversation with Lisa Storey By: Thomas ZamiaraAIFA®

Samaritan Medical Center is a not-for-profit community medical center which offers both inpatient and outpatient health services in the Watertown/Fort Drum Area. Opening in 1881 with only five beds, Samaritan has grown to a 294 bed facility, treating both civilian and military community members.

“Samaritan truly is a community asset,” said Lisa Storey, Manager/Recruiter at Samaritan. “We are the regional referral center in Northern New York servicing our civilian and military population. I’m a strong advocate for Samaritan.” Growing up in Watertown, Lisa is extremely passionate and dedicated to both the local area and Samaritan. Recently, Lisa was able to chat with Confero to discuss her role at Samaritan. 

Confero Magazine: Tell me about how you got into HR and your role at Samaritan.
Lisa Storey: I have been with Samaritan for about 20 years. Just before I started working for Samaritan I was a claims processor for a small insurance company prior to my transition to Samaritan (about 20 years ago). 

Samaritan was a self-funded and self-administered employer for their medical, dental, and vision benefits. I managed those programs for eleven years and then transitioned into human resource management in 2001. During that transition, I assumed responsibility for recruiting and continued to be responsibility for employee benefits.

After my role changed in 2001 I realized that I had the desire to further my career in Human Resources Management. As a result, I completed my bachelors in Human Resource Management degree. My primary responsibility is benefits administration and compensation; however I still remain heavily involved in recruiting.

CM: According to Google and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, The unemployment rate as of 12/31/12 in Watertown was 8.7% and the broader Jefferson County was 10.4% This alarmingly high rate for the county (54 out of 62) has to be creating much despair and concern for both those who Samaritan serves as well as the workforce. Can you comment?

LS: It varies. If I’m recruiting for a higher level position: manager, director, nursing supervisor, assistant VP, VP, or any higher level type of position, our economy and our unemployment rate certainly impacts that. Generally the higher level positions require relocation, so we’re trying to recruit people into the area. When that happens, if they do have a significant other, a spouse, or other family members who will be relocating with them, sometimes that’s one of the first questions they ask: ”What type of other employers are in the community,

Other than healthcare, that my spouse might be able to look for employment?” That is a challenge for us because we do not have a lot of industry. So, if somebody is looking for employment in working for some type of industrial company, we do not have that here. Our community is highly a service oriented community primarily because of the impact of the military. 

Service industry? No problem. If a person is interested in working in a Walmart or Target, we certainly have opportunities in the service industry. For good paying/high paying positions that people can support their family on, it’s a little bit of a challenge. 

When we start talking about entry-level positions—administrative/secretary-type positions, nursing assistants, CNA’s—we’re pretty successful in recruiting in those areas. Typically, for some of our entry level positions when we post a job, we keep the position open for three days because we’ll have 60 applications within three days time. We do have some challenges, but the majority of our challenges are in part-time positions: Part-Time Supervisor/Part-Time CNA, etc. Applicants are looking for fulltime jobs or they need the ability to work full time.

CM: Talk to us about Samaritan’s outreach to Trade schools and high schools?

LS: We do. We have an organization that we’re affiliated with called the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization (FDRHPO). FDRHPO does outreach for healthcare careers across the organization and across the community. We provide school-aged (High School) students the opportunity to experience various healthcare clinical and non-clinical careers through mash camp. The program is a full week summer camp program, where the students rotate through different departments. We offer two levels to include the basic camp experience and the advanced camp. To enroll in the advance camp, participation in the basic camp is required. We also have a New Visions program for health care. We’re affiliated with Jefferson Lewis BOCES and the New Visions program typically has about 25 high school students. They are college-bound seniors who are interested in healthcare careers. In some cases, they know exactly what they do and sometimes they do not. [The program] gives them an opportunity to rotate through every department in the organization and they are here for a year; it’s an excellent opportunity for them to explore all areas of healthcare. We have had students come in and stating they would like to be a physical therapist and by the time they get through our program they decide they want to be a pharmacist.

CM: Skilled talent is in short supply all over the U.S. How is Samaritan seeding the area for a steady supply of skilled workers? Does it even need to?

LS: We do have a CNA training program (Certified Nursing Assistant) and that program is very, very successful. We generally put eight students through every 12 weeks. We just hired another educator so we are going to be putting 16 students through every 12 weeks. It’s an entry level type of position and it works well for individuals who are looking to transition from some other career into healthcare or if they are really not sure where they want to take their healthcare career, it’s a nice position to start out with.

When we are talking about RNs (Registered Nurses), we have an affiliation agreement with Jefferson College, so all of their students do all of their clinical rotations here at Samaritan. They typically graduate anywhere between 25-30 students every year. They also have a graduating class with a little less, about ten. That’s primarily where our recruiting sources come from, from an RN standpoint. We have a couple department managers that are very proactive in looking at the big picture and they know that in order to have experienced RNs in the future … we have to grow our own. These managers are very creative in coming up with an orientation and training programs that will provide new graduates the ability to begin their nursing career in a highly-skilled area. 
Their orientation period is a little bit longer than a typical graduate nurse going into a medical surgical unit, but the outcome is they’re vested in the organization because the organization has invested in them. The New Graduates are screened thoroughly to determine if the nurse has the ability to function in a critical care area. Samaritan recognizes the need to grow our nurses for the future. 

Some challenges in our specialty areas: we can’t put a new grad in the emergency department, Labor & Delivery, or surgical services; therefore we do have a challenge staffing in these specialized areas.

CM: Do you have difficulty attracting talent to Jefferson County?

LS: It depends on the position. Because we are opening a new skilled facility, we hired 220 people in 90 days, which proved challenging. We still have some challenges, but the bulk of the challenges are in part-time positions—part-time supervisor, part-time CNA. People are looking for full time jobs or the ability to work full-time.

CM: How has social networking affected the hiring practices at Samaritan?

LS: We just started actually. It’s taken a little bit of time, but we have a webmaster now. Our webmaster has taken us to the next level: Samaritan does have a webpage and we started to tap into the social network sites to branch out and start promoting current and future healthcare careers. We are not using social networking at the level we should be, but we know that it’s important to taking our recruiting in that direction. She [the webmaster] actually tweets jobs for us on occasion and she is very active in contacting us (usually every couple days) and asks us if there is a position we want to feature on our Facebook page. So, we are starting to look at that—taking baby steps.

CM: How has technology (social media, internet, etc) changed the /vetting/ hiring process?

LS: From a hiring standpoint, when I moved into human resources at Samaritan in 2001, everything we did at that time was on paper. We did paper applications, we did not have an online presence, we did not have an applicant tracking system—it’s amazing how far we have come. Now today, we’ve gone through two different applicant tracking systems and we’ve actually had a couple different vendors and we’re completely online. Our application process is 100% automated—we do not even accept paper applications. Our background checks are completed electronically as well—it’s a part of our application process. Our online vendor allows us to link to a variety of different online search engines such as Indeed and Simply Hired, so we have a very large online presence just by having an applicant tracking system.

CM: HR professionals in my observation are part caretaker (empathetic) in their role and part janitor (have some dirty work to do) what parts of each side do you least like? 

LS: I think the hardest part of any HR professional’s role is when you actually have to let somebody go. Regardless of the reason, even if someone did something pretty egregious, it’s never easy. And I feel that if you become comfortable doing that, then maybe you have been in the position a little too long. There has to be some element of empathy when you are dealing with someone’s 
life. When you let an employee go, it’s a life-altering event. Often it is the result of performance issues, attendance issues or other behavioral based issues and the end result is something the employee created or caused. Typically, it is something that they’ve done, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it impacts their life, it impacts their family, and it impacts their future, so those are never easy. So, I would say that is my least favorite part of the position.
CM: What’s your go to question to wrap up an interview with a candidate that is all wrong for the position?
LS: When we are interviewing candidates, even if we know within the first 5 minutes that they are probably not going to make it we are still pretty consistent. We still ask the same questions of every applicant every time, just from an affirmative action standpoint. Typically, the one question we use to sum things up (and we do it consistently with every applicant) is that we still have additional candidates to interview and as soon as we complete the interviewing processes and we’ve made a final selection, we will reach out to you if we are interested in having you come back for a second interview or to complete the hiring process. We try to be consistent, our hiring managers try to be consistent as well; we have 140 hiring managers. 

CM: Tell me your best interviewing story—comical or horrific.

LS: We had a candidate, he happened to be an internal candidate that was applying for a manager position. This was an individual that has worked for the organization for 10-15 years: very experienced, very well-liked and he was very well prepared. I was amazed at how prepared he was. 
One of the things that he did (and I have never seen this done before): we always ask the question, “So tell me what your staff would say about you?” and he knew we were going to ask that question. 

Prior to the interview, he talked with his staff and said, “Look, I want you to write down one word that describes who I am. I don’t want to see it and I don’t want you to tell me about it. I want you to put your comment in the envelope.” He asked everybody to participate and whoever had the envelope last had to seal it and then they gave it to him. So when he came into his interview, he had this sealed envelope. 

Now he says that he didn’t open it and he had no idea what it said. We trusted him because he is a stand-up kind of guy. It took a lot of guts, because you might think you are perceived one way and your employees might see you completely different. It ended up working in his favor, but he had no idea. It took a lot of guts for him, but it also showed that he is very comfortable with his employees. I loved it.  

Thomas F. Zamiara

Founding partner of Westminster Consulting, Tom serves corporate, non-profit and foundation clients.

An avid sports enthusiast and fan at his sons’ sports events, Tom is a longtime fan of the University of Notre Dame. Tom has been associated with St. Peter’s Soup Kitchen in Rochester, NY for decades...

More about Thomas Zamiara
Sign up for our Newsletter

More Articles From This Issue

Sign up for our Newsletter