Demand for medical staffing puts Columbia entrepreneur at heart of growing business

Try dialing Pulse Medical Staffing any given evening after business hours, and you may wind up talking to the company’s chief executive.

That’s the way Dan Latham, Pulse’s founder and CEO, envisioned his company: Any of its 400 or so employees can reach him at any time if faced with a problem.

“I want it to be more of a team environment, more of a family environment,” Latham said, “that our employees know that they can be helped, that they can reach me or any of the staff here in the office anytime — after hours, even.”

Emphasizing a people-focused approach and operating from a small office in Columbia, Latham believes his company can help solve a problem that’s afflicting the health care industry.

The company provides temporary supplemental staff to health care facilities. With hospitals and other facilities nationwide experiencing staff shortages and nursing jobs projected to grow faster than any other occupation through the middle of the next decade, Pulse’s services are in high demand.

Latham, 53, is a tall man with dark, curly hair and a mustache. In his teens, he wanted to pursue a career in commercial arts. But when he was studying at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, he started working as a nursing aide. That would put him on the path to founding Pulse.

“Art has a way of bringing emotion to your face when you see it, whether it’s sad or happy,” Latham said. “I kind of always wanted to do something that would make people’s lives a little happier and better, and so nursing to me was all about making a difference in my patients’ day, making their day better for them, bringing a smile to them when I was taking care of them.”

Latham quickly worked his way up from a certified medical technician to a coordinator for a tissue recovery service. The next step in his career was going back to school to become a licensed practical nurse.

“I was working on staff, and I was working a lot of extra hours,” Latham said. “And every time I would put in a request off, it would be denied.”

That was how he decided to become a travel nurse. In that job, Latham’s employer would call and offer different assignments around the country for him to choose.

“There was always this big disconnect with the company and the nurses, and you were kind of just a number,” Latham said. “It was hard for the company to remember who you were when you called them and you had a problem and you needed help.”

After traveling around the country, Latham settled in Columbia in 2003. His contract was expiring. He decided not to renew.

Latham looked at Missouri companies providing medical staff to hospitals. But all of them lacked one thing, according to Latham: a team environment. That was when he decided to start his own company.

It took two years to gather all the documents, then three months to write a business plan.

For Latham, the key is to find the right resources and be consistent. He said that’s how he was able to put the company’s legal structure and financial projections together without much experience doing either.

The next stage was creating an image for the company. After working as a cardiac ICU nurse, Latham knew that he wanted a heartbeat and a pulse to be part of his company’s image. That led him to choosing Pulse Medical Staffing as the name for his company and “We’re a heartbeat away” as the tagline.

“When you sign an agreement with Pulse, we kind of put our finger on your facility or hospital and see what the pulse says for that,” Latham said. “We see what your needs are, not just organically, but also culturally.”

The company’s revenue has grown from about $230,000 in 2012 to around $2.8 million in 2017, Latham said. Still, everyone can reach the CEO by the phone at any time and walk into his office to talk with him.

Elise Brion, one five workers in the Columbia office, praises Latham for his organization and professionalism. “I’ve never had as a compassionate of an employer, of a CEO, as he is,” Brion said.

Latham has built the company without sales or marketing teams. He doesn’t pay for advertising, instead relying on relationships he’s built over years of working in the industry.

“He worked in the health care field for years,” said Karen Clark, HR director for Pulse. “So he knows a lot of people, but I would say (people learn about the company) mostly just by a word of mouth, and our employees in the field that work here.”

The company now employs 300 to 400 people at any given time, Latham said, with a majority of them working in Missouri. Pulse has established partnerships with more than 1,000 health care facilities and food processing plants around the country, actively supplying close to 100 of them.

“Those strategic partnerships worked out great for us,” Latham said. “We had a nurse that came in and she wanted to go to Hawaii. Two years ago, that wouldn’t have been possible. But we were lucky enough to have a contractual agreement in place with a company that services a hospital in Hawaii, and we had her there within a week.”

Across the country, hospitals are experiencing staff shortages. By 2022, there will be more jobs available in registered nursing than any other profession in the U.S., according to an American Nurses Association report. Employment opportunities for nurses are expected to grow 15% from 2016 through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Latham has seen the need becoming more acute during his lifetime.

“Years ago, there were three people that literally saw one patient all day long,” Latham said. “Now, one nurse is stretched when she’s having 68 patients a day and there’s no supportive care staff with her.”

The hospitals in need of staff are mostly situated in rural areas, with long-term care facilities being understaffed the most.

“The highest demand is for long-term care,” Latham said. “We see a lot of that.”

Pulse receives requests for as many as 150 nurses per day but doesn’t have enough staff to meet that demand.

The demand for health care services is expected to increase, driven by an aging U.S. population with a greater need for medical services, according to an IBISWorld industry report published last year. That’s projected to drive up revenue of health care staffing agencies at an annualized rate of 3.8%, to more than $23 billion by 2023.

That represents an opportunity for Latham: In the next five years, he expects Pulse to triple in size.

He said he receives many job offers but is planning on continuing to grow his company.

“I don’t have an exit strategy,” Latham said. “I want to continue running the company for a long time to come and see how far I can grow it. I would have never expected us to be as big as we are today.”

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