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Finding a temporary agency to meet your needs.

The first step to a perfect temp is locating the right matchmaker.

SELECTING a first-rate temporary agency calls for careful planning, good instincts, and sound judgment. This article explains how to identify an agency that will send you the perfect temp.

* Do your homework. During your first phone call, ask plenty of questions. Start with a brief history of the company: How long has the agency been in business? How long has it been placing lab personnel? Does it provide temps for other allied health fields? If the company expends most of its efforts on the nursing profession and has only recently branched out into medical technology, for example, its pool of workers you can use may be small. In agencies that staff numerous fields, one person should be responsible for coordinating the medical technology division.

Find out if the agency places traveling employees as well as local workers, and if so, for how long. Make sure the agency has the experience necessary to handle travelers' special needs, such as transportation and housing. Some larger agencies work with long-term client hospitals that maintain their own apartments for temps and assign representatives to handle such details as rentals, leases, and utilities. If your hospital is new territory for the agency, you may be asked to help find safe, convenient, affordable housing for temporaries yourself.

Most temp agencies are privately owned. Financial information is more readily accessible for publicly owned agencies. Ask the agency you're considering to provide the names of supervisors at other hospitals who have used its services--then be sure to call them. Assume you'll be speaking with the most satisfied customers available; when you talk, "listen between the lines" and ask penetrating questions.

* Seek the perfect match. While the background of a temporary agency is important, your main concern should be whether the agency has the right people to suit your needs. Be specific when outlining your requirements. If you need someone to work several weekends a month and to be on call frequently, say so. Don't hold back because you think the truth might hinder your chances of getting the help you need. If a tech walks into a lab expecting one situation but finds another, you could end up in worse shape than you were before.

The more facts you can give the agency about your facility and job requirements, the better. Some hospitals put together recruitment videotapes that show their facilities and surrounding areas for this purpose. Having such details is particularly helpful for temps considering the job from a distant area.

Ask how quickly someone can be sent. Most agencies say one to four weeks; the norm is two. The time frame often depends on whether your tech is at liberty or coming directly from another assignment. Keep in mind that specialists are harder to find. You may have to wait months for a cytotechnologist.

When adding up temp-related expenses, remember that you'll be paying the temp's air fare. Booking a last-minute flight can be expensive, especially if the person you want is far, far away.

Find out how the agency screens applicants. Most agencies will send a resume and a list of references for a candidate you are seriously considering and will arrange for you to conduct a telephone interview.

Once you have gotten that far, proceed as though you were hiring a permanent employee. Ask the prospective temp whatever you usually ask, referring to the resume. Concentrate on previous assignments, including types of duties assumed, special skills required, and length of time with each employer. Follow up on the references provided.

* Calculate costs. Temporary agencies usually prefer to sell hospitals a package that includes the technologist's salary, traveling and housing expenses, taxes, Social Security, and malpractice and workers' compensation. The total cost of these items is broken down to a comprehensive hourly fee, based on the number of weeks for which the hospital has agreed to be billed. Some hospitals prefer to put temps on their own payrolls and to handle housing and transportation costs themselves. Under such an arrangement, an agency will charge a flat fee for supplying the worker only.

Nationwide belt-tightening has affected temporary agencies no less than other companies, so don't be afraid to negotiate for what you want. Be sure you can fulfill any promises you make before clinching the deal.

* Probe the fine print. You're satisfied with the agency; the technologist seems perfect; the fee is reasonable. All that's left to do is to conclude a contract. Simple, right? Not exactly. Before you sign on the dotted line, read the fine print for the following information.

Fees. How often does the company send invoices? Will fees be due immediately upon receipt or will you have a grace period, and if so, will interest be charged on the unpaid balance? Small agencies may be more likely to require payment on receipt and to start charging interest sooner than large agencies that have a more comfortable cash flow. Will you get a discount if you pay a portion of the fee in advance?

Will you be charged extra if the temp works nights, weekends, or holidays? Will rates remain the same throughout the duration of the contract or increase or decrease after a certain date?

The contract should list precisely what is included in the agency's fee. It's standard to charge for the temp's housing and transportation to your facility, although some agencies also provide their temps with rental cars and a meal allotment.

Many agencies expect the client hospital to guarantee the temp a specified number of hours per pay period and to pay the same agency fee no matter how many hours the temp actually works. After all, such fees provide the temp's and agency's livelihood. If you're not sure you can keep the person busy, ask the agency up front how many hours you will be obliged to pay.

Here's another item for the contract: If the temp works out beautifully and you mutually want the arrangement to become a permanent one, will you be expected to pay a finder's fee? Some agencies believe that the goodwill generated by charging no extra fee for this will solidify their relationship with the hospital, leading to more business down the road from the same facility or through word of mouth. Others want the goodwill and more money. Ask.

Insurance. Will the temp be covered under the agency's malpractice, liability, and workers' compensation insurance while working for you? Make special note of this point if the worker will be on your payroll. In any event, you are entitled to copies of the agency's certificates of insurance. Some send them automatically. Others have to be asked for them.

Breaking the deal. Suppose that (by some miracle) a local tech with outstanding qualifications walks into your lab looking for a job after you have hired temporary help. Are you obliged to keep the person sent by the agency? Most agencies are flexible about terminating a contract. They want to keep you happy for future appointments; and if your hospital doesn't need the worker, plenty of others will. You may be asked to keep the temp on staff until placement can be made elsewhere, however, and will probably be expected to reimburse the agency for any transportation or housing costs it has already paid.

Once the terms of the contract are suitable, verify the temp's starting date and time, method of arrival, and housing considerations. If possible, speak directly with your prospective employee. While most temps are hardy souls, they appreciate personal contact and a chance to ask questions. An early connection is profitable for both parties.

* Provide details. Hiring a quality temporary worker can mean all the difference in the world to a laboratory limping through a staff shortage, particularly an unexpected one. To increase your chances of finding the temp of your dreams, specify your needs in detail. Treat the agency well. As the owner of one temp agency said to me, "We need to be partners, not adversaries. If hospitals use temporary agencies correctly, they will save money. If they abuse the agency and the agency goes out of business, no one will be there to help with unexpected staff shortages."

Lyn Kidder, MT(ASCP) is a general-duty medical technologist at Wood River Medical Center (formerly Moritz Community Hospital), Sun Valley, Idaho.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kidder, Lyn
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:1393
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