Over the last several years, the healthcare industry in America has experienced staffing challenges due to several compounding issues. Changes in demographics and the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have created an environment of chronic understaffing for many hospitals and long-term care facilities. Many healthcare facilities turn to nurse staffing agencies to fill the gaps with per diem nurses.
These nurses provide a critical service for providers struggling with giving their patients adequate care. Yet when compared with staff nurses, agency nurses come with their own challenges, especially for workforce managers.
Nurses of All Kinds Are in High Demand
Many facilities work with a staffing agency out of necessity. A 2018 study from the American Journal of Medical Quality expected a shortage of 154,018 registered nurses by 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) now projects an average of 194,500 new openings per year for registered nurse positions from 2020 to 2030. The lack of nurses is a significant challenge across every field of healthcare.
Several developments are contributing to the shortage. A growing number of nurses are nearing retirement age, and not enough students are enrolling in nursing programs to replace nurses leaving the profession. As the median age of Americans increases, so will the number of patients needing geriatric, long-term, and chronic disease care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the shortage even further. Early in 2021, the American Nurses Foundation conducted a nationwide survey of the effects of the pandemic on registered nurses. The survey found that 18% planned to leave their position, and of that number, 45% pointed to staffing shortages as the reason. With notable connections between adequate nurse staffing and level of patient care, facilities need solutions to ensure they meet patients' needs.
Agency Nurses vs. Staff Nurses
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, staffing agencies rose in popularity, especially among skilled nursing facilities. As such, more healthcare facilities are hiring agency nurses, and find that managing and working with them differs from working with full-time staff. This is party because agencies have their own operational rules and may provide different benefits than the facility itself.
Some of the differences between agency and staff nurse management include employment, hours, and pay:
A hospital or long-term care facility directly hires its staff nurses. However, agency nurses work for a professional staffing agency and sign temporary contracts with a facility. The agency provides them with placement in various healthcare fields ranging from hospitals to patient homes. Usually, agency nurses sign contracts with facilities that are understaffed or in high-need areas.
2. Hours and Attendance
The number of hours a nurse of any kind works varies by field and facility. Generally, staff nurses work in shifts determined by nurse management. These shifts may include nights, weekends, and holidays. Often, staff nurses are on call to come in for work when needed.
On the other hand, agency nurses have greater flexibility with their scheduling. An agency nurse can include their preferred hours in their contract with the facility, ensuring they get to work the number of hours they desire. A weekly schedule for an agency nurse sometimes depends on the facility's patient census. As with staff nurses, agency nurses can pick up higher-paying shifts to earn more.
HR managers take attendance for both staff and agency nurses through attendance tracking software that monitors overtime, tracks absences, and prohibits punch-ins that don't comply with company policies.
While staff nurses are usually salaried, agency nurses are paid hourly and receive a stipend for living arrangements. Because they fill a higher need, agency nurses typically earn a higher wage than traditional nurses, despite being equally qualified and experienced. However, staff nurses also receive paid time off and benefits packages, unlike agency nurses.
Also, agency nurses have more flexibility to negotiate their wages than staff nurses. That said, the staffing agency usually pays for recruiting, insurance, some payroll costs, and more. To accurately calculate what partnering with agency nurses would cost your facility, consider all employer costs, including benefits and taxes.
The BLS projects that employment for all nurses will grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030, a figure that includes agency nurses. Recently, many nurses have been drawn to agency work over regular staffing because of the pay, opportunity to travel, and insulation from politics at the facility. One recent estimate puts the number of agency nurses in America at over 1,700,000 active agency nurses. According to the BLS, only a little over 3,000,000 nurses were employed in 2020.
Many agencies also offer considerably higher weekly wages for agency nurses because of the pandemic, according to a news story from NBC. This level of pay is an immense attraction for many nurses, causing many to leave their facilities. It's safe to say that agency work will remain popular in the near future.
Tips for Managing Agency Nurses
Using a staffing agency can be an effective way to care for your facility's patients and your staff's needs during a time of understaffing. A staffing agency can take on some of the burdens of managing regular staff so you can solve the most pressing management concerns.
If your assisted living or long-term care facility has chosen to hire agency nurses, it may be challenging to manage agency nurses from different organizations on top of your current staff. It's essential to organize your entire team to optimize your facility's operations.
Here are a few actionable tips for how you can manage staff and agency nurses at the same time:
1. Make Detailed Plans
When considering how to manage agency nurses, it's vital to set aside time to prioritize daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. Designate the everyday tasks of running your long-term care or assisted living facility to specific nurses on shift. Additionally, you can think about long-term goals and strategize ways to accomplish them over shorter periods.
Consider keeping a calendar to organize daily operations. Scheduling tasks and timeframes can help manage agency nurses by providing a clear outline for a shift. It's helpful to plan agency-related obligations on the calendar to keep all of your workforce management duties in one place. Prevent scheduling conflicts by color-coding your calendar to organize tasks by employee or agency.
2. Encourage Teamwork
Managing agency and staff nurses for long-term care and assisted living facilities might look different than other kinds of facilities. In a long-term care facility, patients benefit from developing relationships with staff, which could be challenging with agency nurses on short-term assignments. Although agency nurses are less involved in administration and workplace drama than staff, friction could arise between nurses because of their differing responsibilities.
To foster communication and camaraderie between all nurses, encourage them to work together. Both agency nurses and staff are vital for continuing operations and providing quality patient care. Fostering open communication between the administration and nurses can empower employees to be part of the team. It can also lead to higher retention.
3. Use a Workforce Management Solution
Simplify workforce management for staff and agency nurses with the use of software solutions. Using workforce management software improves operations by automating certain management functions. The time-tracking and scheduling solutions provide employees with a seamless experience and allow nurse managers to monitor schedules. The entire team also benefits from a streamlined workflow that allows staff to focus on providing patient care.
Manage Staff and Agency Nurses With SmartLinx
With shortages and transforming technology across healthcare fields, managing a nursing staff efficiently can be challenging. At SmartLinx, we understand that long-term care and assisted living facilities need streamlined solutions to handle scheduling and optimize business workflow. Our workforce management software helps your facility keep employees organized.
Keep productivity and employee engagement high with software from SmartLinx. Schedule a software demo today to see how we can help you optimize your facility's operations.