“We see ourselves as supporters of the nursing staff”

The address is selected appropriately. The Invalidenstraße in Berlin, chosen by the founders of Pflegia as the headquarters of their company, fits in well with the theme of its name: care.

Felix Westphal and Masoud Shahryari from Hamburg and Lennart Steuer from Munich moved to Berlin for their start-up, which was founded three and a half years ago, in order to modernize the application process in nursing and therefore the industry as a whole. A discussion on a complex field of work, current problems and good future prospects.

Berlin newspaper: You are all still quite young, how did you find the issue of care?

Felix Westphalia: Nowadays, unfortunately, almost everyone has something to do with the subject either personally or in some way. My sister also worked at the hostel. When you visit the hotel facilities, you quickly notice that things are anything but smooth. And that leaves a lot on the shoulders of the nursing staff.

Masoud Shahryari: Many of my friends and relatives work in nursing, my brother also works in medicine.

Lennart Tax: I already knew during my studies that I wanted to do something with social added value.

To the people

Masoud Sharyari is 29 years old and, like 26-year-old Felix Westphal, hails from Hamburg. Lennart Steuer, 27, hails from Munich and studied business administration, economics and social entrepreneurship. Masoud Shahryari studied business administration, Felix Westphal economics. All three started founding Pflegia during their studies, initially on their own. They now employ about 50 full-time employees and, according to their own statements, arrange about 5,000 appointments in the nursing sector each month. The company is headquartered in Berlin-Mitte. The three young founders of the company live in the capital.

The social added value of care is undeniable, especially after coronavirus. Why is this socially important and existential project in our market economy still being paid relatively poorly or that many nursing staff are generally dissatisfied?

Lennart Tax: It is due to the lack of transparency in employment and salaries and the lack of appreciation, as well as to a really bad image. For example, if they call me in training, it is not very useful. For me, too, it is due to the lack of academic training in nursing. Nursing staff must have so many skills – if I compare the requirements for a nurse with those during my business studies …

Masoud Shahryari: It is positive that we have managed to move forward with digitization in recent years. With a better roster design, many employees could have remained in the industry as a precaution. In contrast, many nurses continue to be pressured into a three-shift workload.

Felix Westphalia: In nursing there is a large workload with high flexibility. Then we thought: An industry that faces such demand must focus on the applicant! Just like IT, management and headhunting. But either we did not search well enough or there was simply no such thing when we started three years ago. So we started our own business with the idea of ​​putting the caregiver first. And regardless of whether he is a single parent, he wants to work only 50 percent or in what part of the care he wants: the employees receive applications from us from the employers. According to the principle of reverse recruitment, ie the reverse application process.

Was this accepted?

Lennart Tax: We started with a simple landing page where the nurse can register and say what qualifications she has and, most importantly, what her wishes and requirements are for a job. For example: I am a trained geriatric nurse and would like to work 75% in a nursing home – but only in Berlin-Wedding. And I would like to win at least 3300 euros gross. We have a total of 14 of these contact points to choose from, ie criteria that are important to me as a nurse. At that time we already had 250 users in three weeks and we thought: Fine, let’s release it! It seemed to fit the situation that the nurse was being sought and not the job. Next, we created a job matching tool on it and developed a career coaching service.

You started as a trio and now how many are you?

Lennart Tax: We now have about 50 full-time employees. And we have about 100,000 registered nurses nationwide, plus about 4,500 employers, which means about 27,000 jobs on the platform.

So is it okay – for you?

Felix Westphalia: We are combining more and more employers and nursing staff, we now have several job offers all over Germany and we are very happy that we can also offer more and more jobs in more remote areas. Which at first was not easy. The care is very decentralized. In the meantime, the candidates for managerial positions register with us and leave their profile with us until the appropriate offer comes.

Lennart Tax: Recruitment offices existed long before Pflegia, but they were very expensive and required two monthly salaries for the placement, ie 7,000 to 15,000 euros depending on the salary. This was taking advantage of a state of emergency in the area. Instead, we focus clearly on the caregiver and our prices are 50 to 70 percent lower than those of regular recruitment agencies. Bring as many employers and jobs as possible to our platform. We now have about 5000 games a month.

What does the nurse pay for your mediation?

Felix Westphalia: Nothing at all. Only the employer pays. But only if there was a successful recruitment. Our entire service in advance and our advice is also free for the employer. We want to align our business in such a way that it is only worthwhile for Pflegia if everyone is happy. And we go one step further: In case of early termination of the employment relationship, we work with the return of our placement fee. Because we have an interest in a long-term cooperation with both sides.

Everything sounds great. There are problems; How did it go during the coronavirus?

Felix Westphalia: At first we had concerns. We thought no one would change employers during the pandemic. But people kept changing and searching. Tools like Zoom were soon well received – and we were also allowed to provide some instruction in the industry through digitization. But of course the workload for nurses has increased significantly in the pandemic. In lockdown, for example, relatives were no longer allowed in the homes. It was a tragedy for everyone – and a triple burden for caregivers. Many failed during the lockdown and patients received little care.

Masoud Shahryari: For us as a platform, there were almost no restrictions, but in our coaching career we have direct contact with the nursing staff and that was difficult. They fought hard during the lockdown, entire living spaces were blocked. The sick also felt guilty when their colleagues had to work for them. Many say now: I’m there for my team. Because if I leave now it means three more shifts for my colleagues. It is a vicious circle.

Have you seen nurses leave completely because they became very stressed?

Lennart Tax: The situation was already very critical in the intensive care unit and in the Covid area in the clinics. At that time we took care of a lot of nursing staff ourselves. Some were so upset that their voices trembled on the phone because they were so scared of the huge workload. The stations were already overloaded before, after even more. In the second wave, the vaccination then scared many. Now, plant-based vaccination is leading some to leave the industry.

Felix Westphalia: We would love to see more people get vaccinated. We ourselves are 100% vaccinated in Pflegia and we understand why politicians have introduced vaccination requirements related to facilities to protect the vulnerable. But it is also true that not all nurses will be vaccinated. We can not change that – and we must face it. We must not lose them in this industry, which is completely understaffed anyway. A study by Charité estimates that up to 100,000 nurses will not be vaccinated. It would be disastrous if we lost those in the industry overnight.

What do you suggest? At the moment it seems that many employers and health authorities want to overcome the problem by the end of the nursing vaccination requirement next year. Until then, people who have not been vaccinated will continue to work because no one can do without them.

Lennart Tax: In any case, we need reassurance for the nursing staff on how to proceed with the compulsory vaccination associated with the facility. In September, the amplifier could also become mandatory. This also floats in space.

Masoud Shahryari: People are afraid of losing their jobs and demand the continuation of the payment of salaries, which are still pending and have not been specially regulated. In addition, the vaccinated team must absorb the workload when the unvaccinated are absent. There we have the vicious circle again.

Felix Westphalia: However, we do not have the impression that unvaccinated nurses are being bullied. It seems very solidary – and it’s nice to see colleagues coming together. Overall, many carers, whether vaccinated or not, feel discriminated against by institutional vaccination requirements. If I want to change a branch anyway because I’m unhappy, as a caregiver I may be more likely to go to another branch where there is a lot of searching and where this extra weight is not coming over. For us and employers, freezing recruitment for unvaccinated people means we have the same challenges as before the pandemic, now there is also the fact that we have five to ten percent less staff to choose from.

Masoud Shahryari: And this in an industry that is already quite suspicious of politics and privatizations and many social upheavals. You have to be very sensitive in this industry.

Last question: What is the current average salary for nurses?

Lennart Tax: This varies greatly depending on the sector of implementation and education, especially at regional level. In Munich, a full-time nurse in an intensive care unit can receive € 50,000 a year and an assistant nurse at a Brandenburg rural hospital can receive more than € 20,000 a year.

Felix Westphalia: It is also our concern to have more transparency here. We see ourselves as supporters of nurses. And we also ask the employer if there is nothing more possible if the nurse completely forgot to ask about the salary during the interview because the interview was so nice.

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