The past few years have taught healthcare organizations to expect the unexpected. While this is certainly easier said than done, one of the most effective ways to prepare for unseen threats is to develop a strategic plan that covers how to implement and manage a rapid response/surge staffing program.
Healthcare as a whole is no stranger to staffing shortages. They existed even pre-pandemic, despite their recent exacerbation. Knowing exactly what to do during a time of crisis is critical to containing staffing costs, ensuring favorable patient outcomes, and setting up the organization for future success.
Staffing Challenges for Healthcare Organizations
One of the more prominent staffing challenges that healthcare organizations have faced recently is their ability to attract and retain talent. The pandemic widened the cracks in this proverbial foundation when spikes in patient volumes caused staff to work overtime, burnout more frequently, and succumb to the aptly-named 'turnover contagion.' With such high pressure to fill vacant roles in order to keep up with increasing demand, organizations found themselves relying on contingent staff more often.
Unfortunately, despite the pandemic's cessation, burnout has remained. Healthcare as a whole is seeing increasing patient volumes and a dwindling workforce — the American Medical Association estimates that healthcare's total labor force has dropped lower than it was pre-COVID. Additionally, the industry is observing overall attrition, meaning there are more people leaving (whether due to burnout, retirement, or career changes) than entering the workforce.
A shrinking labor pool, among other problems, have initiated reliance on contingent workers to maintain day-to-day operations and during times of increased patient volumes.
For a more in-depth look at challenges healthcare faces, read '2023 Strategic Workforce Challenges.'
However, Managed Service Programs like HWL have proven to mitigate the vast majority of staffing challenges that healthcare organizations currently face. By containing contract labor costs, on which facilities have been increasingly reliant, and increasing access to qualified talent pools, organizations are able to rest easy knowing operations will have minimal interruptions. This is achieved through:
- Contract management
- Clinical interview and screening services
- Onboarding and compliance management
- Real-time data analytics to give actionable insights
- Holistic employee management
Implementing and Managing Surge Staffing
While the utilization of rapid response staffing services is relatively infrequent, it can make or break operations when its necessity arises. This can be triggered by unexpected, external factors such as in the case of a disease outbreak or pandemic, or it can be due to internal factors such as turnover contagion.
Regardless of reason, there are some ways organizations can implement and manage rapid response staffing programs to ensure operational continuity during crises.
Create a Formalized Plan for Potential Surges
The first step toward creating a strategic surge staffing plan is analyzing the reasons why such need could arise in or around your organization, creating a formalized plan, and communicating it to key stakeholders.
This plan should include elements such as:
- Identification of situations that may require surge staffing: This could be a disease outbreak, natural disaster, mass casualty event, turnover contagion, or other type of crisis.
- Staffing sources: Know where you need to turn once things do go sideways so you can plan accordingly. Do you have agency relationships ready to roll on short notice? Have you developed an internal agency? Can you employ the services of a Managed Service Provider (MSP)?
- Analysis of staffing needs and patterns: A comprehensive surge staffing plan should include analyses of staff and room utilization rates based on time of day, peak season, and other extrinsic factors. By identifying where staffing gaps may exist, you can get a head start on filling them if a crisis arises.
- Communication plan: It is one thing to know where and when emergency staff will be needed; it is another to communicate these needs. Identify key communication channels and stakeholders that need to be involved in order to develop a formalized communication plan. This will be crucial in gaining real-time, on-the-ground updates regarding staffing needs.
- When and how these emergency plans are triggered: Once a plan is formalized, knowing when it should be utilized is critical. Key personnel should be designated to conduct on-the-ground assessments and make the call regarding when surge staffing plans should be set in motion.
Utilize an MSP
MSPs assist organizations by managing all aspects of contingent staffing. For instance, HWL's MSP services include:
- Contract management: By providing data-driven market analyses, we ensure that all contracts strike a balance between remaining competitive to attract the best talent and containing costs for the organization. To achieve successful market rate structures, we engage all stakeholders and establish vendor panels across the country.
- A holistic, all-in-one resource: MSPs utilize industry experts that manage the entire staffing process from interviewing and recruitment to onboarding, time collection, and invoicing. By becoming the liaison between suppliers and internal teams, the organization is able to focus on other priorities.
- Real-time data: With dashboards that show crucial, real-time data, organizations can gain insights regarding utilization rates, vendor performance, and even individual staff performance metrics. By using predictive analytics, data-driven decision making has never been more fluid.
When a hospital system becomes strained, these MSPs become a life raft in chaotic waters. Being able to rely on a trustworthy partner to handle the bulk of staffing needs is imperative to reaching desirable patient outcomes, and thus organizational success.
Create an Internal Agency
With the help of a vendor management system (VMS), it has never been easier to create your own internal resource pool (IRP). This allows the organization to create a central database of contract and/or employed clinicians who have been pre-vetted and credentialed to work in a given facility or department. In the event that surge staffing is needed, an internal resource pool is critical in saving precious time and money.
HWL's internal resource pool system, for instance, has a number of features that have assisted organizations during crises, including but not limited to:
- Cross-browser compatibility with responsive design
- Master- and unit-based scheduling
- Open shift notifications via mobile app, VOIP, text, email
- Viewing and accepting schedules on any device
- Custom filters for type of shift, time of day, location, etc.
- Tracking and management IRP staff documents and credentials
- Online performance evaluations and tracking of average eval score
For more information on internal resource pools, read 'Internal Resource Pools: Leveraging Tech for Optimal IRP Staffing.'
HWL Assists in Deploying Rapid Response Staffing
HWL's MSP, VMS, and internal resource pool services have helped hundreds of organizations across the country optimize their staffing programs, start or improve internal resource pools, accommodate the need for surge staff, and more.
By assisting your organization in optimizing and improving your healthcare workforce, your organization remains resilient and flexible, even during volatile or unpredictable times. Our state-of-the-art, proprietary talent management technology leverages customizable functionality to meet your organization's unique needs.
Example of Effective Surge Staffing Management
During the early days of the pandemic, HWL assisted the Georgia Department of Community Health and the Georgia Department of Health in deploying surge staff to hundreds of facilities across the state while using market data to pay competitive rates all while containing overall costs.
We helped them keep ICU and MedSurg nursing rates lower than the national average and neighboring states (Florida and Texas) so they could accommodate the influx of patients without breaking the bank.
In total, HWL was able to assist in the deployment of nearly 8,000 nurses (RN’s), licensed practical nurses (LPN’s), and certified nursing assistants (CNA’s) to over 250 locations. These surge staffers together provided over five million hours of service and care—that adds up to over 570 years.
Read here for a more detailed breakdown on program costs and how money was saved during a global crisis.
Find out more about our platform or schedule a demo here!