Staffing shortages are nothing new. While staffing problems have definitely been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the truth is that a serious nursing shortage had already existed in the United States for a number of years. According to one study, more than one million additional nurses were going to be needed by 2020 in order to hold off worsening the trend. Those needs were not met. And now, in order to stop this shortage from growing further, an additional 11 million nurses will need to join the workforce over the next six years.
This shortage issue isn’t just causing problems for big healthcare systems, either. A survey conducted in March 2020 by MGMA found that 40 percent of practice leaders responding indicated they had experienced increased staffing shortages amid the nationwide spread of COVID-19. 42 percent of respondents in a related poll reported that they’d used temp workers or a floating staff pool to fill in the gaps. While such methods help, there is more that can be done to address a staffing shortage in your practice. In this blog, we will examine some of the most effective ways to avoid having your practice’s efficiency undermined by staff shortages.
Methods for Handling a Staffing Shortage
1. Coordinate Holiday Schedules
Around this time of year, staff take time off to be with their family around the holidays. If not properly coordinated, this can impact practice performance. While your practice is likely already closed for the holidays, it's the days before and after this time that must be planned thoroughly. To prevent disruption, encourage staff to submit their leave dates weeks in advance. This will give you a chance to review the schedule and identify dates where there is too much overlap. In such cases, coordinate with those staff members to reschedule holiday leave in a way that will keep the practice from being shorthanded.
Emergencies aside, it’s a good idea to create a policy to have staff give a certain amount of notice before taking time off. When a staff member suddenly takes time off with little notice, it can cause problems, especially if you are a small practice. Requiring staff to give 2-3 weeks’ notice before taking leave is usually enough to avoid being caught off guard.
Having staff that is appropriately cross-trained is a great way to make sure that everyone can fill in staffing gaps when needed. Though it may be helpful to have specialized team members, ensure that they are well versed in other areas so they can take over at a moments notice.
Creating a “float pool” is a great way to supplement staff shortage with reliable coverage and avoid the uncertainty and costs associated with potentially having to pay for a temp service. A float pool is an in-house list of individuals who are available for temp work, who have already been vetted and proven themselves capable of doing the job.
5. Use a Temp Service
This should be reserved for a worst case scenario but is still a viable option. If your practice is having staffing issues, employing a temp service is probably the fastest and easiest way to fill in the gaps. However, these services can also be extremely cost prohibitive for smaller practices. Additionally, there is the uncertainty of never really knowing just who they will be sending you and what that person’s actual skills will be. It is important to look at the needs of your practice and decide the best course of action before choosing to use a temp service but having one readily available if needed is advised.
Staffing shortages can cause some serious headaches. However, with the above methods and advanced planning, you can mitigate the effects and ensure your practice is never unexpectedly short-staffed.
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