- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Greater Southeast Community Hospital is looking across the globe to turn itself around after a bankruptcy nearly forced its closure more than two years ago.

The hospital in the District’s Ward 8 is bringing dozens of nurses from overseas to work at the 450-bed facility, which has had problems hiring and retaining staff over the years.

“If you don’t have stable nurse work force, then it can create confusion and inconsistencies,” said Joan Phillips, the hospital’s chief executive officer. “We’re looking to the international nurses because this is a hard area to attract nurses to and there’s a nursing shortage nationwide.”

The hospital recently announced a contract with Tennessee-based HCCA International for an undisclosed sum to bring 60 nurses from overseas to work at Greater Southeast.

Ted L. Merhoff, vice president of development and marketing for HCCA, said nurses recruited by his company typically come from countries such as the Philippines, China and India.

He said they must pass the same exams required by local and national nursing boards. They also are required to obtain work permits, pass an English proficiency test, graduate nursing school and have at least five years of experience in a hospital.

Officials said the nurses will remain employees of HCCA through the next 30 months, after which they can be offered employment directly with the hospital.

The hospital, which is the only facility on the east side of the Anacostia River, has had a history of struggling to hire and retain a stable nurse work force.

When Miss Phillips took over the hospital in 2003, Greater Southeast had lost its accreditation, had gone bankrupt and was being investigated by city health inspectors.

“One of the things we did was decide that we needed to get a stable, more constant, full-time work force in here,” Miss Phillips said.

Since then, the composition of the nursing staff has changed drastically.

Of 450 nurses, about 60 percent are full-time staff and the remainder are paid through contracts, officials said. In 2003, 75 percent of its nursing staff was contracted out, according to Ryma Bielkus, director of business development for Greater Southeast.

The hospital has since regained its accreditation, passed city health department inspections and emerged from bankruptcy protection last year.

Hospital officials say they are not relying solely on overseas recruitment efforts to boost staffing, but the foreign nurses play a key role in stabilizing the hospital’s work force.

Since December, 15 nurses have arrived from the Philippines, and dozens of others are scheduled to arrive in the next few months, officials said.

Doreen Deyta, 30, came to Greater Southeast from the Philippines in December and works in the operating room. “I thought to myself that it couldn’t hurt to give it a try,” she said.

Mrs. Deyta said in the end the money was a major factor in her decision. In one day, she makes about $200 at Greater Southeast, which is about equal to what a nurse in the Philippines makes in one month.

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