Finding the staff to manage a crisis

HR staff in York Region rise to the SARS challenge

When Bev Cassidy-Moffatt, HR manager of York Region, saw a list of requests for staff redeployment, she did some quick math in her head and concluded it wasn’t possible.

It was two weeks after health officials first learned that the SARS virus had arrived in Toronto via two returning vacationers. York Region was setting up a number of initiatives to respond to the situation.

They included a telephone line for public inquiries, a SARS screening clinic, and a tracing and surveillance service to check up on people under quarantine. Public health nurses and registered nurses were needed for these services; there was also a need for data-entry staff to keep records of patients and people under quarantine up to date.

“As we looked at the number we realized that our current staff, even if we put them into an overtime situation, we wouldn’t be able to meet the need on a long-term basis,” said Cassidy-Moffatt.

On Wednesday morning (April 2), she and staff from the advertising department sat down and brainstormed. They decided on holding a job fair. “I went upstairs to the health department and said ‘Clearly identify what positions you need and how many in each category.’” By that afternoon, they had a list draft up and an ad put together. The advertising team contacted the newspapers to ask if they could hold off the deadline just to let this one ad through.

The ad appeared Thursday and Friday. Meanwhile, Cassidy-Moffatt had to round up people to do the interviews. She needed to find managers, HR business advisors, recruiters, HR assistants, anyone who could clear their plate in short order.

“People just threw down the gloves and said, ‘What needed to be done?’ and ‘Whatever it takes, fit me in. I’ll do whatever I can to help.’”

At first, she said, “it was really difficult for some of my HR consultants to do a quick interview because for so long now, we’ve been doing probing, behaviour-based interviews that would last an hour or so.” But after a couple of 10-minute rounds, the interviewers became practised in homing in on key information. People who were qualified were hired on the spot, and a several of them started work that very weekend. In all, 174 were hired on contract.

“It was a neat process to be involved with. Because as HR professionals, we always like to think that we can rise to the occasion when it’s needed, which we do on a regular and ongoing basis. But something like this required us to look at things creatively.”

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