News and Insights

healthcare staffing in 2022

The effects of COVID-19 continue to influence healthcare staffing in 2022. The pandemic hit all employment sectors, especially the healthcare system. Critical care providers and healthcare staff often worked long hours, quarantining from family for their safety while enduring inadequate supplies and increasingly hopeless situations. As a profession, labor shortages had already been trending when the pandemic hit. Then demand skyrocketed. Staffing agencies could scale up and fill the need, but the demand for healthcare staff drove wages and costs up.

The pandemic intensified the labor shortage, but other factors were already in play that widened the gap between the needs and the labor market. The aging population hits the labor market on both the supply and demand sides; many in the healthcare profession plan to retire soon while our nation’s aging demographics increase the demand for more intensive and complex care.

The labor shortages facing the industry affect patient care and quality. In fact, according to a new report from ECRI, staffing shortages are the number one patient safety concern in 2022.

Since the pandemic, hospitals and healthcare facilities have had to respond to the staffing shortage with strategies that have driven up costs. Hospital labor costs increased more than a third over pre-pandemic levels, and contract labor now makes up 11% of labor costs compared to 2%. High demand and labor shortages during the pandemic have driven up wages. Contract nurses’ hourly wages increased by 106%, while staff nurses increased by 11%. Overtime pay was 532% higher during the pandemic and the use of contract labor increased by 132%. Operating margins continue to take a hit, and hospitals and healthcare facilities rework their budgets as a tight labor market fuels competition for staff.

The demand for personnel and healthcare staffing in 2022 has not slowed down, while staff satisfaction in their position remains low. More than 33% of healthcare providers plan on resigning in the current year, and many of these are leaving patient care altogether. The COVID-19 pandemic decimated healthcare professionals’ morale, particularly those who were the full-time staff. Loyalty and a sense of purpose motivated these employees to go the extra mile for their patients, their teams, and their organizations. As healthcare facilities began to pull in an increasing number of contract staff, strategies to effectively manage this growing segment of their teams often resulted in more per diem staff making significantly more money and being assigned preferential shifts and working shorter hours. The result was that full-time healthcare staff began feeling undervalued and overextended. Nothing hurts morale, engagement, and retention more than a perception of unfairness. Expect higher turnover and lower morale when perceptions of injustice mix with fatigue and burnout.

Like other sectors, healthcare workers also began to rethink their roles during the pandemic. Burnout, trauma, and other factors were drivers in the Great Resignation for healthcare staff, but healthcare workers also began to look with interest at the changes affecting professionals in different industries.

Generational expectations are a factor as well. The incoming healthcare professionals have different expectations than earlier generations. Overall, healthcare employers seek work-life balance and greater flexibility in their schedules. They are curious and seek variety in assignments. They are gravitating to travel nursing, not only for the extra income but also for the opportunity and ability to control their lives and work. Meeting the needs of this new demographic is challenging but not impossible.

The news is not all bad, though. Many healthcare providers are stepping up to the challenge with new ideas. Deepening employee engagement and implementing innovations have the potential to transform healthcare staffing. Many hospitals are looking at alternative ways to create talent pipelines within their teams. New approaches in workflows are streamlining operations while improving patient care.

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