How COVID-19 Changed the Locum Industry and What’s Next

An interview with Kim Coburn of Stratum Med

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Stratum Med is a collaborative alliance consisting of sixteen multi-specialty group practiceslocated in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Collectively, Stratum represents approximately 11,000 physicians across the country today.

Like many companies in the Locum industry, Stratum has faced its own unique set of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Coburn is the Locum Coordinator there.

She spoke about how COVID-19 travel restrictions changed the face of staffing, including some locum providers who accepted permanent positions instead. So what happens next for the locum industry?

Kim spoke in an interview with Health Carousel, which provides world-class healthcare staffing and workforce solutions designed to improve lives and make healthcare work better.


I think the new challenges every day that we face in the locum industry, there's always something new to work through, to solve problems with, to kind of help get these facilities the help that they need. It's definitely a challenge.

If I could take the last nine months into consideration, just the locums who don't want to travel during this time to come on assignment when we need them to the facilities who didn't need them to come in, but they were confirmed to.

To find the right provider for the actual need is always one of our biggest challenges to make sure we find the exact person that could be helpful to our clients.

You know, a lot of our locums travel to come to our areas. So trying to find doctors to work in areas that we do need the help in, can't seem to travel due to the pandemic or they’re coming from a very high risk area. So, there's certainly challenges that we faced while being presented with potential candidates interested in our opportunity that maybe logistically is not going to work.

And I think a lot of the outpatient emergency medicine, any of the elective procedures, those types of things just weren't needed. So, we had to do a lot of cancellations. And that was really frustrating I think for a lot of these locum providers in the firms that helped us find these doctors in the first place.


As we’ve seen across the industry, the impact of these challenges are directly dependent uponan organization’s ability to pivot and adapt. For Stratum, these pivots didn’t just minimize thechallenges at hand. In fact in some cases — better, more effective processes were discoveredalong the way.


We certainly had to pivot and change the way we delivered medicine. A lot of our facilities took into telehealth actions and started zoom meetings and payment to the 21st century I think a little bit more than what they really wanted to but was forced into. And now, I think they've embraced it and they've made it part of their options for our patients so the patients can stay at home where they are safe, and they can still be seen by a physician and get the help that they need.

Because there weren't admitted patients. They weren’t doing procedures. High schools weren’t playing football and hurting their legs or getting concussions. Kids weren't in school to where they could spread all the other diseases that are out there. So, I think they had a little bit more time on their hands to make it a little bit more personable with their patients and take that time.

I think what has happened industrywide, that there was all this canceling because they can't do elective procedures. They can't see patients in the office. So, I think what happened was those physicians who were working locums started looking for perm jobs. And so the perm recruitment teams within not only our facilities, but maybe across the world, were able to lock in some of these providers more on a permanent basis to help them even through the pandemic.

If I was canceled everywhere, and I couldn't work as a locum because theyweren't just needed, but they had opportunities for permanent positions atthese clinics, like waiting for the right doctor to come along? Well, theselocums, they could have been totally right for these positions. They neverreally thought about going firm, because they liked the travel or they like tojump around. And so I think it gave our facilities an opportunity to look atcandidates that probably wouldn't have come to them, because of thelifestyle change that they'd had to make and they had to pivot.


The pandemic’s impact on the Locum industry at large appears to be inconclusive. Wheresome companies have struggled due to the discomfort around travel, others are thriving —seeing significant growth from last year with no signs of slowing down.


I can give a rundown of some of our statistics here at Stratu. We filled over4,200 days in 2020 despite the cancelled shifts that we did. We had over 60locums working throughout the year. Some of those were intermittent and we had to put a little hold on them for a little while, brought them back. So I feel like from a standpoint of how busy we were — we were really busy. Yeah, we're just talking locums. It was higher, despite everything.

I think because what happened is that they pivoted, they changed the way they were doing things. We have more doctors on telehealth now and more locums on telehealth than we did before. We have more psych needs because of the pandemic.

We changed the specialties. So, we no longer needed a gastroenterologist as the outpatient. But we needed more psychiatrists, or we didn't need so many crna is, you know, because of the elective procedures, but we needed other specialties. So I think it outweighed each other and it was amazing. Absolutely amazing.


So, what does the future hold the Locum industry, for Stratum, for Kim?


When we ramp back up and those specialties that were there before. So whether or not the facilities were able to find their magic perm candidate during this pandemic or not — if they’re going to need to be there. How are we going to be able to help?

It’s supply and demand. Right now we're seeing a huge demand in ICU and pulmonary care. Will that shift as the vaccine starts coming out? As the cases go? and decrease? What will we see in that specialty? So there's a lot of what ifs and what will we do if this happens.

The vaccine is coming out. And so the staff is so overwhelmed trying to get everybody vaccinated right now. They have vaccination sites set up.

I’ve had a lot of heartache for this pandemic. So, I always have to find the silver lining. And I think those silver linings are, we're still working, we were not one of the ones who lost their jobs. We are still healthy. We are not one of the ones that were affected by COVID. I have not even tested positive for the virus personally, and neither has my husband. So for that I'm thankful. And that's a true gift. I think a lot of people have suffered losses in a lot of different ways between financial or personal or family members. So I am truly gifted that we have what we have.

My company has been awesome to work with, especially during this pandemic, allowing us to work from home to be flexible. And they trust me. They trust me to be able to do my job and to do it to the best of my ability, and they give me the tools to do it

This episode of The Workforce Solution has been an interview with Kim Coburn from Stratum Med.

The Workforce Solution is a storytelling series brought to you by Health Carousel, a world-class healthcare staffing and workforce solutions company designed to improve lives and make healthcare work better