5 Ways to Ease Staffing Shortages Now and into the Future

5 Ways to Ease Staffing Shortages Now and into the Future. A four-by-seven grid of clinician icons with eight icons emptying, representing missing or unfilled staff positions.

For the first time in nearly two decades, staffing shortages replaced financial challenges as the top concern among CEOs in the American College of Healthcare Executives’ annual survey. In December, a Moody’s Investors Service report forecast that staffing shortages and labor costs will bring higher expenses and an ensuing decline in operating cash flow for nonprofit hospitals and public health care.

Many believe today’s staffing shortages, particularly in nursing, are more pronounced than in the past and will persist beyond 2022. But there are steps that can be taken now to ease future workforce pressures.

1 | Customize Retention Strategies

Listening to what clinicians want and need and tailoring solutions appropriately can help boost retention, notes the AHA’s 2022 Talent Scan report. For example, while all nurses seek commensurate recognition and compensation for expertise and effort, some may put a premium on flexible scheduling and breaks to recharge, strong management support, open lines of communication, input into decision-making, accessibility to mental health and well-being resources to cope with job-related stress, or help with child or eldercare.

A 2020 survey of physicians indicates that increased pay, additional time off, reduced on-call and paid sabbaticals are key retention factors, according to The Physicians Foundation. Other factors that can boost satisfaction include increased autonomy, more face time with key leaders and more formal recognition for job performance.

2 | Consider Leaning More on Advanced Practice Nurses

Licensed nurse practitioners (NPs) have taken on greater responsibility during the pandemic when many state executive orders granted them larger roles, given the pressing need for primary care professionals. Their role will continue to grow along with value-based care models, notes a McKinsey & Company report. Their ranks also are expanding, increasing 12% in the last year to a record 325,000-plus. Nationwide, more effective use of NPs and physician assistants could help alleviate the primary care physician shortage.

3 | Strive to Become a Millennial/Gen Z Destination

As workforce shortages continue, new clinicians can be more selective about where they work and for what kind of organization. Offer staff the ability to tailor their schedules to allow time for innovation. Meanwhile, creating a career lattice allows you to keep and grow entry-level workers who are interested in health care but who may not realize they can grow where they are. Sharing your mission, values and diversity, equity and inclusion goals can be critical to Gen Z employees who often value cultural fit over traditional benefits.

4 | Integrate Workforce Planning with Strategic Planning

As the health care landscape is transformed by such key forces as the societal factors that influence health, emerging technologies and consumerism, deepen your understanding of the impact on the workforce and the nature of the jobs clinicians perform. Create an environment that supports the team through change. As skill sets and capabilities shift, develop strategies to reskill the existing workforce and strengthen the talent pipeline with new professional development pathways and partnerships.

5 | Create your own solutions

Some hospitals and health systems are building their own internal supply of clinicians who can be reassigned temporarily during peak need periods. CommonSpirit Health recognized the need to create its own internal nurse-staffing agency before the pandemic, but COVID-19 accelerated the need to build it. Having an internal staffing agency gives nurses the flexibility to travel when it works for their lives and gives them more flexibility while remaining in the organization and keeping their seniority, Kathleen Sanford, executive vice president and chief nursing executive at CommonSpirit recently told HealthLeaders.

5 Focus Areas for Future Preparedness

  1. Team Satisfaction: Are you reimagining delivery models to boost team satisfaction, such as expanding use of telemedicine platforms that allow nurses to work remotely more often?
  2. Engagement: Do you foster engagement and retention by regularly soliciting and acting on staff input through structurally embedded opportunities like shared councils and committees?
  3. Eliminating Gaps: What gaps do you need to address so that you can quickly and efficiently ramp up, deploy and support staff during the next emergency or pandemic?
  4. Next Up?: Have you reviewed and updated your succession-planning strategies for clinicians?
  5. Clinical Workflow: What technologies are you exploring to help you optimize clinical workflow and ensure patient access to health care when clinician numbers are limited?

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