How to Solve Nursing Short Staffing: 7 Tips for Employers

How to Solve Nursing Short Staffing: 7 Tips for Employers

Even before the “Great Resignation” hit healthcare, nurses were in short supply in many places. As that shortage continues, though, the impact of nursing short staffing is also growing more intense. And even though nursing homes may be hardest hit, all types of providers are ultimately affected. Here’s a closer look at the causes and consequences of short staffing, plus a few ways to minimize its impact now.

What Is Nursing Short Staffing?

What is nursing short staffing? Healthcare organizations are short-staffed when they fail to have enough nurses to meet their current census of patients or residents. Nursing short staffing can occur because an employer hasn’t hired — or can’t hire — enough nurses to meet its needs. It can be a long-term or short-term problem — for instance, when a nurse is sick and can’t be immediately replaced.

In some settings (like nursing facilities) and in certain states (like California and Oregon), employers must follow specific ratios. And in many other places, a facility’s efforts to maintain safe staffing must be disclosed to the public. But whatever larger standards are in place, having too few nurses can have disastrous consequences for any facility.  

Related: What are the nurse staffing ratio requirements for your facility? Learn more here.

What Employers Are Most Affected by Short Staffing?

Nursing short staffing may affect some areas more than others, especially rural and remote regions. Yet as a larger trend, the ongoing shortage of nurses is inflating operational costs and talent scarcity pretty much everywhere. And even though hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers, and virtually every other provider must deal with it, nursing homes and other long-term care (LTC) facilities are the hardest hit.

According to a 2024 survey from the American Health Care Association (AHCA), a whopping 99% of nursing homes are actively trying to fill open jobs. What’s more, 72% say that their workforce levels are at lower level than before the pandemic. As a result, 46% now limit new admissions, and almost 20% “have closed a unit, wing or floor.”

What’s Causing Short Staffing?

What’s behind the rising levels of nurse short staffing? Experts cite the impact of the pandemic, which drove a huge amount of turnover. And according to Jennifer Mensik Kennedy of the American Nurses Association (ANA), about 100,000 nurses left the healthcare industry as a result of Covid-19, as well as the corresponding increase in workplace violence and the higher pay available in other industries.

That’s not all, though. As the shortage of nurses continues, it only makes things worse for those who remain. One survey found that 61% of nurses who are considering quitting cite the ongoing shortage as a major reason why. Burnout remains dangerously high in many places, too, further contributing to turnover and absenteeism.

Some groups also point to the difficulty of meeting new regulations around staffing ratios, especially for nursing homes. There’s also the tendency for providers to cut nursing staff as an early response to budget shortfalls. Bottlenecks in training are another cause, leading to calls for more financial incentives for new nurses to enter the field.

What’s the Impact of Short Staffing in Nursing Care?

What are the effects of short staffing, and why is it important to prevent it? Nursing short staffing can directly affect many important metrics for healthcare employers, including:

  • Outcomes. Studies have connected increased staffing to better quality of care and patient safety.
  • Medication and other errors. Researchers often associate a higher case load with more costly errors in care.
  • Morbidity. From falls and bed sores to hospital-acquired infections, nurses with fewer patients are better able to detect and treat common facility-based complications.
  • Mortality. Researchers have connected a higher level of RN staffing with a measurably lower “hazard of death” for patients.
  • Satisfaction scores. In addition to poorer outcomes, patients and residents who must wait for attention overworked nurses rarely feel satisfied with the care they receive.
  • Nursing job satisfaction. In one survey, 65% of nurses cited “insufficient staffing” as one of the most frustrating part of their jobs.
  • Absenteeism and turnover. Overworked nurses are more likely to feel burned out, which can drive absenteeism, increase turnover, and intensify the original problem.

What Can Employers Do to Improve Nursing Short Staffing?

Of course, laws mandating staffing ratios differ from place to place, and facility to facility. So, the right balance of nurses to patients or residents will be a different equation for each employer. But, even given that variation, there are certain steps any provider can take to avoid being short staffed.

1. Improve Staffing Flexibility and Transparency

One way to retain nurses and attract new ones is offering the kind of work/life flexibility that’s available in other industries. Whether it’s caring for a sick family member, taking a four-day weekend, or even taking a full lunch break, surveyed nurses cite lack of flexibility as one of their biggest complaints.

2. Expand Professional Development Opportunities

Another common complaint of unhappy nurses is lack of advancement opportunities. Offering more robust training programs and making it easy to earn CE credits doesn’t just help engage and retain nurses, but also boosts every department’s skill set.

Don’t miss: 4 tips to encourage nursing professional development.

3. Listen — and Show Appreciation

Many nurses feel unappreciated and unheard, especially since the pandemic. (In one survey, 57% of nurses “would like to have better communication with upper management.”) Making the effort to hear the workplace concerns of nursing staff could reveal new solutions. It could also help keep them engaged in their jobs, limiting turnover and short staffing.

4. Support Mental Health and a Better Culture

Employers can help nurses avoid burnout — and thus, reduce absenteeism — by providing active support for self-care and mental health. Doing so could improve the culture in a way that helps retain and attract skilled nurses.

5. Reduce Unnecessary Tasks

Employers can improve nursing job satisfaction by reducing repetitive and unwanted tasks with the help of automation technology, or by diversifying their workforce with more coaches, aides, and other professionals who can handle specific aspects of care — and give core nursing staff the time to focus on the work they find most meaningful. 

6. Establish a Clear Plan for Unexpected Short Staffing

Sickness happens. At some level, then, absenteeism is inevitable. Whether it’s establishing a float pool or gaining fast access to temp workers, every employer should have an official policy for dealing with last-minute absences — and a mechanism to implement it.

7. Utilize Contingency Workers

As the AHCA points out, even though many nursing homes are actively investing in recruitment and retention, they’re still facing a “lack of interested or qualified candidates.” For rural and remote facilities, the only feasible solution to this problem may be partnering with a nationwide provider of nurse staffing solutions.

Improve Short Staffing in Nursing Now

If you’re looking for the contingency workers you need to deal with short staffing, you’ve come to the right place. At CareerStaff, we deliver not only access to thousands of nurses across the U.S. but also the expertise you need to put them to the best possible use.

Contact us today to discover how our Joint Commission-Certified nurse staffing solutions can benefit your organization, or request nurses now.

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