Who says good help is hard to find? Just about every healthcare provider in the United States, it seems.  The growing shortage of doctors and nurses, together with the recent near-record low U.S. unemployment rates, has brought the healthcare staffing services segment into sharp focus for investors.

Through mid-November, 18 deals targeting these companies have been announced in 2018, compared with 16 in 2017 and 10 in all of 2016. Five of this year’s deals had private equity firms as acquirers, and five others were made by PE-sponsored firms.

The most recent transaction was announced by HNI Healthcare, a portfolio company of Sante Ventures based in Austin, Texas. HNI recruits, credentials and places physicians, with a focus on hospitalists.

HNI paid $25 million to purchase Martin Healthcare Group, a privately held physician staffing and practice management company delivering inpatient care and staffing solutions to acute and post-acute care hospitals across the Midwest and Florida.

The acquisition of Martin Healthcare, based in Cleveland, Ohio, marks HNI’s entry into the Midwest market. The combined company will have 700 providers practicing in more than 70 inpatient facilities, and gives HNI a wider market to offer its software platform, HM VitalSigns. By January 2019, the combined company will be marketd under the HNI Healthcare brand.

PE firms we’ve seen getting into this space in 2018 are Beecken Petty O’Keefe & Co., which bought Medicus Healthcare Solutions, LLC in October for an undisclosed price. Medicus provides locum tenens staffing to hospitals, practices and other facilities.

In March, Webster Capital acquired Emerald Health Services, which specializes in travel and contract nurse staffing to acute care hospitals and other facilities in California. That same month, Gen Cap America bought CoreMedical Group, another agency specializing in travel and permanent placement for nurses, physicians and other health professionals around the country.