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Lab salaries: many think compensation has to get better.

The sharpest difference between MLO's salary survey of two years ago and the current salary survey lies in outlook.

In late 1986, only 13 percent of the laboratory administrators and supervisors polled expected laboratory salaries to improve appreciably over the next five years. This time around, 56 per cent of the panelists look for an appreciable improvement in salaries, and they all cite one overriding reason: the shortage of laboratory personnel (see Table 1).

Other reasons given include lab or institutional profitability, increased productivity, and to a lesser extent, unionization.

But the staffing situation will get worse before salaries get better, panelists believe. Ninety-five per cent detect salary dissatisfaction among their colleagues, 33 per cent to a high degree (Table II). Over 80 per cent say this will prompt more laboratorians to leave the profession and make it harder for labs to recruit new personnel.

In the last three years, nearly 70 per cent of the surveyed laboratories experienced budget cuts or freezes, mainly attributable to prospective payment (Table 111). The tightening included a freeze or limitation on filling job vacancies, at 79 per cent of the labs where restrictions were imposed; a freeze on capital spending, at 71 per cent; budget cuts, at 61 per cent; a freeze or limitation on continuing education, at 58 per cent; a salary freeze or limitation on increases, at 53 per cent; and layoffs, at 32 per cent. (Recently, however, laboratories have eased hiring and salary restrictions because of the national staffing shortage.)

More small and mid-size hospitals than large hospitals froze salaries or limited salary increases. Small hospitals also led the others in layoffs.

Budget tightening affected morale at 90 per cent of the laboratories, efficiency at 62 per cent, and employee turnover at 52 per cent (Table IV). Lab efficiency was the only one of these areas where some panelists noted a positive effect-more streamlined operations-from budget restrictions.

"Following layoffs two years ago, morale was low for a while," the administrative director of a large New Jersey hospital said. "But then we all pulled together and are as efficient as or more efficient than before. Employees have more cost awareness than before and are generally more conservative."

A panelist reviewed changing trends on budget restrictions at a small rural hospital: "After I received a raise in January 1984, the hospital froze salaries until June 1986, when my pay was cut 10 per cent. Since then, I received a hospitalwide increase and another increase accompanying a promotion . I am now exactly where I was in 1984.

"Rural hospitals are really struggling against a system that is trying to close them. We can't expect higher salaries when reimbursement is so low. Also, I don't expect laboratory salaries to ever become competitive with nursing salaries because the public still doesn't know and understand what we are. Neither does administration-and our administrator is a medical technologist!"

A laboratory manager at a small Michigan hospital also complained about reimbursement rates: "Hospitals are perhaps the only business in the world where outside agencies dictate what they are going to pay for the services offered."

In a 1981 salary survey, MLO found union employees in only 1 8 per cent of the laboratories; in the survey two years ago, the level was 17 per cent; and in the current survey, it was 15 per cent. We asked panelists from unionized labs how union membership had benefited their employees. While 46 per cent saw no gain, another 46 per cent said fringe benefits had improved, 42 per cent said salaries had improved, and 21 per cent said working conditions had improved.

Finally, here's what some other panelists said about salary prospects in the next few years:

* "As with nursing salaries, the only time laboratory compensation will move up to realistic levels is when hospitals can no longer find anyone to work for these salaries. Much of the pay problem is due to the absurdly low reimbursement rates hospitals receive. They just don't have the money."

* "Until the profession unifies to present a viable bargaining body, similar to the American Nurses' Association, the status quo will prevail."

*"Until there is a blatant decrease in patient care, we will not see better salaries and working conditions. "

* "Salaries for laboratory personnel will have to be made equivalent to those for nurses."

* "The staffing shortage will have a snowballing effect on lab salaries, such as we have seen in nursing."
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Report, part 2
Author:Benezra, Nat
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Previous Article:Lab salaries: still too low, but rising.
Next Article:Implementing hospitalwide laboratory QA.

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