Health care business hires workers displaced by coronavirus pandemic

The effects of the coronavirus were uncertain when cases started to multiply across East Tennessee in mid-March. Three months later, more than 580,000 unemployment claims were filed, the greatest increase in the history of the state, and many people were left wondering how they would recover in an economy weakened by the virus.

Although many industries had to scale back their production and workforce, Knoxville's Hillcrest Healthcare found a plethora of new opportunities for job placement and targeted workers displaced by COVID-19.

"We wanted to make sure that unemployed workers knew that we had opportunities here that were considered essential," Doug Bryant, director of human resources, told Knox News. "With the pandemic in our environment, it created new opportunities and things that we have to start doing differently, which opened up even more opportunity."

Hillcrest received applications from people with diverse backgrounds and expertise, most who had no health care experience but were looking to rejoin the workforce after being displaced by the pandemic.

Nearly 90 new full-time and part-time positions were created to give out-of-work people the benefits and stability they needed during an unprecedented time while also servicing Hillcrest residents.

"A lot of people have this idea that you have to be a nurse or a certified nursing assistant to work in healthcare, but we were targeting those entry-level positions in environmental services and our dietary department," Bryant said.

The network of senior assisted living centers that consists of Beverly Park Place, West Hills Health and Rehab, and Island Home Park quickly changed its protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside company walls. More people were suddenly needed to deliver meals, disinfect surfaces and help residents stay in touch with loved ones electronically.

According to Bryant, one-fifth of the company's new hires came from professions "completely outside" health care – a trend seen nationally as workers look for new ways to make money amid a health crisis. A study by Glassdoor revealed that health care job postings increased dramatically when the virus reached the U.S.

Many companies in the sector were looking for immediate hires for temporary roles. However, Hillcrest's opportunities have long-term potential. Bryant said employees hired during the pandemic will have the option to leave and return to their previous jobs or stay permanently.

The need for additional help at Hillcrest and other senior living centers is expected to remain, giving new and future hires stability and advancement opportunities in healthcare.

Per Hillcrest's federal regulators, facilities must stay one phase behind the local community when reopening to ensure the safety of high-risk residents. Bryant said that because of a delayed return to normal operation, employees are still needed to perform the duties they were hired for when the pandemic began.

Tasks that became more important during the virus are also likely to continue to exist.

Bryant said that electronic visits have helped Hillcrest residents connect with family members far and wide. He expects virtual face-to-face visits to become the preferred way for long-distance relatives to check in with their loved ones and speak with practitioners about care. Having employees who are already trained and have experience facilitating the calls is a huge benefit. 

Bryant recognizes that new hires will come and go as the pandemic continues, but hopes that those in need will turn to Hillcrest if they are searching for work.

"We still have plenty of opportunities to hire people," Bryant said. "A lot of our new hires have decided to stay with us and, of course, some of them really liked the jobs they had. We were just happy to be able to provide a service for them to be able to continue working during that time."

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Allie Clouse

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit

Published July 17, 2020