How Healthcare Providers can be Proactive in the Ever-Evolving Staffing Landscape

April 20, 2023 Kimberly Anderson-Mutch

The healthcare industry has undergone significant changes in staffing over the years. From the impacts of COVID- 19 to chronic understaffing, various staffing models have emerged to meet the ever-changing needs of patients, healthcare providers and facilities. 

As the market dynamic continues to shift, the traditional full-time staffing model has taken a hit, and contingent and agency staffing models have been the go-to replacement, resembling an Uber-like marketplace. With the rise of on-demand staffing needs, platforms that match healthcare workers with healthcare facilities in need of temporary staffing enable visibility and control over workforce expenses. 

Healthcare facilities need to take a proactive, holistic look at their staffing and enact a plan that makes the most sense to their financial and business goals. 

The understaffing problem

One of the biggest challenges of healthcare facilities is maintaining a full staff to care for patients, most of whom are extremely vulnerable and more at risk for death or serious medical complications from COVID-19 or the flu. 

States require that certain ratios be maintained between staff and patients. If too many caregivers are out sick or if a facility is severely understaffed already, the facility won’t be able to meet state requirements and will not be able to accept new patients. 

Without new patients, a facility’s population dwindles, causing reimbursements to go down and revenue to drop for the facility. To fill these unexpected gaps in staffing and remain fully operational, facilities contract with third-party staffing agencies, which, of course, charge a premium for their services. 

In this scenario, facilities find themselves under tremendous financial pressure to not only provide care to patients but also acquire additional resources. This creates a circular, catch-22 situation. And the only way to get out of a catch-22 is to prevent it from happening in the first place. 

Lessons learned

Overall, the industry learned some tough lessons over the last couple of years, as nearly all facilities nationwide were unprepared to enter the heightened state of a pandemic. Most had to operate with fewer resources and fewer employees. 

Don’t get caught on your heels. The industry must be proactive in staffing to stay ahead of the issues and insulate its business from the inevitable shifts that will occur. 

Melissa Powell, CEO and EVP of Genesis has first-hand experience with staffing challenges, “With a strong, proactive focus on staffing, organizations and facilities can perform better clinically, maintain stronger operations, and foster more collaborative, cohesive care teams. These indicators are important to prospective patients and their families who are seeking care,” concludes Powell. 

The following strategies are intended to help long-term care facilities sense and adapt to staffing challenges.

Embrace technology

By far, the most important piece of preparation is to embrace technology that will help your facility optimize its operations. A software platform that can manage employees is essential for any medium or large facility. Without a full mastery of your staffing needs, it’s difficult to plan and meet regulatory requirements. 

Technology solutions can also help prevent the spread of illnesses by controlling who is entering the facility, tracking employee temperatures, vetting health questionnaires, and contact tracing.

Invest in flexible workforce planning

It’s important for long-term care facilities to forecast their staffing needs based on patient volume, acuity and other factors to ensure adequate staffing levels. 

Workforce management platforms offer real-time calculations and predictions, as well as connect operations to caregivers outside the facility who are on standby. When someone calls in sick at the last minute, it’s paramount to be able to easily contact a replacement fast. 

This can include cross-training staff members to work in different roles, leveraging technology to streamline staffing processes, and implementing contingency plans for unexpected staffing shortages. 

Invest in retaining employees

It’s important to keep your staff happy by supplying plenty of paid sick time and flexible schedules. We’ve seen across healthcare — as well as sectors — when employees are burned out or unhappy, they quit in droves. Staff attrition is directly tied to these issues, and the issue of compassion fatigue amongst caregivers is well documented.

That’s why it’s key to invest in staff retention. Retaining experienced staff members can help reduce turnover and minimize the need for contingent or agency staffing.  

Powell suggests, “As the industry looks to hire FTE employees, providers should focus on creating a culture where employees feel valued and rewarded for their contributions. This can be accomplished in part through traditional wage and benefits programs, but also through engagement efforts such as recognition programs, career advancement opportunities, and a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.”

In some instances, working for a third-party caregiving vendor may appear more lucrative and less stressful. The last thing you want is for your employees to be envious of these temporary co-workers. For the facility to stay competitive in hiring and retaining employees, facilities need to offer full-time caregivers more compensation and flexibility, or they could risk losing them to third-party vendors and other organizations. 

Gain acceptance of third-party vendors

I speak with a lot of long-term care operators, and a common pain point that typically comes up is an overbearing dislike for having to hire temporary nurses. Yes, it’s not ideal. They cost more money, and the temporary caregivers aren’t as familiar or possibly committed as full-timers. My advice: come to terms with it. 

In these challenging times, it’s guaranteed a facility will find itself understaffed and need to supplement with temporary caregivers. With the long-term effects of the pandemic, flexible working trends and relying on temporary or gig workers are the new normal. It’s better to accept temporary nurses as a way of doing business rather than pretending they don’t exist. Optimizing those relationships will be better for business, staffing and patients. 

Powell adds, “By taking a big-picture view of staffing needs and developing strategies to address them, long-term care organizations that utilize platform strategies are better positioned to not only survive but thrive in an uncertain and always evolving industry.” 

Harnessing the power of your own data and resources in a single end-to-end platform helps facilities anticipate and adapt to both known and unknown challenges, taking the uncertainty out of staffing and enabling better care for patients and their caregivers.

Originally published in McKnights 

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