Healthcare staffing shortages and costs are a top priority for all healthcare organizations. Twenty-five percent of hospitals faced critical staffing shortages at the beginning of 2022. Healthcare and social services workers had the second highest quit rate during the great resignation, and according to a survey by Elsevier Health, 47% of healthcare workers plan to leave their current role by 2025. Staffing shortages, low employee morale, and high turnover majorly impact the healthcare industry.
Coverage during the pandemic was critical, and healthcare organizations invested heavily in securing the staff necessary to meet the needs of patients. Over time, hazard pay and the frequent use of traveling medical personnel drove up labor costs while resources and demand for elective procedures plummeted.
Operating margins shrunk, but federal pandemic funding helped bridge the gap. While demand for procedures has increased, high turnover and high labor costs combined with increased pressure on the part of insurance companies have continued to decimate operating margins. Consolidations and closure may be a reality for struggling organizations whose operating margins are negative, and patients may face reduced choices.
Healthcare organizations face a critical challenge in resolving staffing issues. The key is understanding the external trends, factors, and internal challenges and then finding the path to achieving balance.
8 Tips To Help You Solve Staffing Issues
Each organization has different challenges, and there is no magic bullet, but here are a few things to consider.
Recognize that long hours and sometimes chaotic workplaces contribute to burnout.
Because staffing shortages in all levels of the organization impact operations, many highly qualified staff pick up tasks that other employees would do. Assess your organization’s need for all positions. Fully staff the facility and support teams so your healthcare staff can focus on patient care.
Healthcare workers have gone the extra mile for too long.
Many healthcare staff rose to the challenge of the pandemic, leaving them burnt out and overextended. An excellent first step to reducing burnout and improving work-life balance will be to avoid overtime and invest in better workforce management practices to balance shifts between full, part-time, and traveling staff.
Recognize that a factor in turnover may be the perception that per diem staff is more valued.
Many workers observe their travel peers receiving better compensation while having more control over their lives and schedules. A feeling of unfairness is a significant demotivator and negatively impacts morale. Low morale increases turnover. Perhaps the most powerful thing a healthcare provider can do is champion and reward their full-time permanent staff. Don’t neglect your permanent staff while competing for new or temporary staff. Invest in their growth and development, offer flexibility, and increase compensation
Help full-time employees understand the value of fringe benefits.
Hourly rates are deceptive. A 2017 KMPG analysis of costs associated with permanent and traveling nurses revealed that the fully-loaded costs of a permanent nurse were slightly higher than that of a traveling nurse. While per diem rates increased during the pandemic, the gap is less than it initially appeared. Communicate total, fully-loaded compensation to help employees compare apples-to-apples.
Get strategic with workforce planning.
Anticipate future demand and build career lattices so that staff can see that they can grow within your organization. Let your employees know that you are invested in their growth. Continued education and career path planning will not only increase employee satisfaction but could address the next projected labor shortage. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the demand for advanced practice nurses, such as midwives and nurse practitioners, to grow 45% from 2020 to 2030, outpacing many other occupations.
Accept that higher compensation is a reality.
Look for other innovations to reduce costs. Technology, practice workflows, and artificial intelligence can streamline operations and free up staff, ensuring the right people do the right work. Leverage your talent by upskilling and training staff to tackle less critical tasks and take the workload off the higher-level clinicians.
Know what motivates existing and potential employees.
The new generations of healthcare professionals are seeking more flexibility. Consider the “travel at home” model, where a subset of your permanent staff can float with greater flexibility, cross-training, and meeting demand.
Outsourcing healthcare workers will always be an essential part of the staffing plan for healthcare organizations.
Seasonal demand, pandemics, and rural locations can strain the regional labor market. Finding the right mix of permanent and outsourced healthcare professionals is essential to responding to patient needs. Partner with an organization that will get to know your facility’s unique culture and needs. Look for staffing services with high customer satisfaction, and experience with workflows, and understand how outsourcing can positively affect the bottom line.
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