St. Louis nurse turned entrepreneur looks to soothe staffing headaches with startup Provider Pool

During Janna Westbrook’s time as a director of nursing at a skilled nursing center in the St. Louis area, she struggled with staffing.

“Turnover rates were high,” Westbrook said. “We could not find or keep nurses. So, staffing firms were a last resort, and working with them was never a good experience. There’s very little accountability — the nurses may show up, they may not.”

Westbrook wanted a more efficient way to have access to nurses. That is why she created Provider Pool. Founded in 2018, Provider Pool is a self-service platform that links nurses with health care facilities.

“Nurses register on the app, create profiles, upload their credentials, and then will get notifications whenever facilities near them post job opportunities,” Westbrook said.

Westbrook’s passion for improving the hiring process was a major reason she was accepted into the Techstars Kansas City startup accelerator, according to Lesa Mitchell, managing director of the Kansas City program. Provider Pool completed the three-month accelerator program last month.

“At Techstars, we say invest in the team more than the company,” Mitchell said. “Janna was someone worth investing in because she had been both a nurse and an administrator. She cared deeply about the problem she was trying to solve.”

Westbrook had a clear vision of what she wanted Provider Pool to be. But she needed help with certain aspects of the business, and that’s where Techstars came into play.

“They introduce you to customers, strategize legal, marketing, sales, operations and really just help with all of the different facets of business,” Westbrook said.

Provider Pool gives nurses the freedom to choose their shifts, identify which facilities they want to work at and indicate desired pay.

Nurses are matched up with facilities based on their preferred rates. This was a big draw for Mitchell because she believes that nurses are under-compensated.

“Nurses have taken on increasingly important roles over the last 20 years,” Mitchell said, “yet compensation is still a problem.”

Provider Pool generates revenue by taking a percentage of the facilities’ shift prices. The company has accumulated $45,000 in revenue in the last five months, Westbrook said. It has raised $300,000 in outside capital to date.

Westbrook said over 750 nurses and 30 health care facilities are currently using Provider Pool. Those numbers continue to increase with the pandemic driving up the demand for nurses.

“We’ve grown over 100% month-over-month for the last five or six consecutive months,” Westbrook said. “COVID was a huge catalyst for our business.”

The company currently has four full-time employees based out of St. Louis. That is why Provider Pool has done most of its business in Missouri.

Westbrook said health care facilities in the Midwest tend to be late to the party when it comes to new technology. COVID-19 has encouraged some of them to try Provider Pool.

“Staffing is one of those things that is pretty antiquated and still done manually,” Westbrook said. “COVID opened their eyes to easier ways of doing things. For example, you don’t need someone on the phone all day when they could be used to give better quality care.”

That’s ultimately what Westbrook said she is trying to accomplish with Provider Pool — giving the best quality care possible. Staffing issues get in the way of a facility’s ability to do that.

Westbrook likes the direction her startup is headed. However, there are too many moving parts to know exactly where Provider Pool is going.

“Our software could be applied to any industry,” she said, “and I do think that we might branch off into other areas of health care.”

Right now, the immediate goal is growth. Westbrook and her team are looking to scale their business, starting with increasing revenue. The startup hit $22,000 in August, Westbrook said, and is projected to reach $40,000 in September.

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