Healthcare Workforce Planning during COVID: 6 Action Items

female doctor wearing face mask and a white coat

Just as it’s changed so many other part of our daily life, the Covid-19 pandemic has upturned the world of healthcare delivery. In some areas, the earlier ban on elective procedures forced many providers out of business and put many nurses and clinicians out of work, just as other communities are experiencing shortages of clinical help.

The need for quarantine and the failure to protect some workers during the pandemic’s early stages have also had negative effects on the overall healthcare workforce. And with outbreaks increasing nationwide and global resurgences occurring, it’s hard to see an end in sight to these challenges, even as caseloads worsen and outbreaks intensify. Against this backdrop, how can healthcare providers work to improve their staffing plan?

Healthcare Workforce Planning during COVID: 6 Action Items

You already know the basics — protect your workers and patients as much as possible by raising standards of disinfection and PPE reserves. To the extent that you can, offer administrative and tech personnel the option to work from home, along with flexible scheduling where possible. Set up virtual consultations to meet with patients remotely.

Chances are, you’ve already got all that in place. But as the pandemic grinds on, we’re also learning that these basic considerations aren’t enough. Here are 6 more urgent action items to help make sure your healthcare workforce plan is up to the task.

1. Embrace the possibilities of travel nursing.

A greater utilization of travel nursing and other “traveling” clinicians has been one of the most immediate results of the pandemic. Offering the potential to work in another location that’s more in need of their help, companies like CareerStaff specialize in placing travel nurses and other clinicians with facilities that need them.

And because of cross-state licensing compacts for nursing, therapy, pharmacy and other health professions, these workers can more quickly start assignments across state lines without the need for additional licensure. That includes working not just in hospitals and intensive care units treating Covid-19, but also schools and other educational institutions that need to boost staffing levels.

2. Follow through with digital integration.

The use of digital care technologies has sharply accelerated in the first half of 2020, and with good reason: Virtual consultations and remote management not only help patients comply with stay-at-home orders, but they also help keep healthcare providers safe by minimizing the touchpoints for infection.

According to many experts, it’s a good idea to treat this shift to digital care not as a temporary fix but a permanent solution. Talking to USA Today about the long-term effects of the pandemic, former Mayo Clinic leader and current OptumHealth CEO Dr. Wyatt Decker predicted “a wave of ongoing adoption and increased acceptance, even as the pandemic begins to wind down … I think the shift is permanent.”

Yet even for seasoned or savvy clinicians, the use of some of this technology can be unfamiliar and intimidating. You can best serve your workers by making the new telehealth tools more readily available to them, and helping them to adapt and learn their use, as well, with training sessions and specialized outside help, if necessary.

3. Offer empathy, information and easy communication.

Especially during a time when so much information is being thrown around, and not always reliably, it’s crucial to keep your workers updated with what’s actually happening within the facility and larger healthcare community. And it’s important to do so with empathy for workers’ situations, while being calm, upfront, and communicating a sense of purpose.

4. Have a plan for temporary closures.

The widespread shuttering of many non-ICU healthcare services in March and April isn’t likely to be repeated. Yet that period still offers a valuable lesson in preparation: As we’ve seen so vividly in recent weeks, any region is susceptible to a sudden spike in cases, and an area’s acute-care facilities may need to be expanded at the expense of other services, at a moment’s notice.

In the event of a closure, even a temporary one, it’s important to have a plan to minimize workflow disruption without jeopardizing the well being of your workers or forcing them unto unnecessary hardship. This should be a central part of any efforts at communications, as noted above, as well as to help insulate workers against community backlash that can be the result of an unexpected closure.

5. Be vigilant against burnout and compassion fatigue.

Burnout is a real issue for clinicians, and the risks are obviously higher than ever. As experts have pointed out for years, burnout can have a real effect on facilities. (In general, people suffering from burnout are about three times more likely to miss a shift than standard workers, according to research published in PLoS One.)

Compassion fatigue is also on the rise, particularly among nurses. A condition that can undermine mental and emotional health and lead to higher rates of absenteeism and turnover, a higher risk of compassion fatigue has already been connected to Covid-19, with one study of nurses in China recommending “specific interventions could be implemented to safeguard the health of ICU nurses.”

How can facilities safeguard against burnout and fatigue when they’ve become so common even during normal times? The best path forward is through enhanced communication and outreach. Prevention “is achieved through professional boundaries, self-care measures, self-awareness, and education on the concept at the individual and organizational level,” writes the author of a 2018 analysis.  

6. Consider the use of expert workforce solutions.

Given the huge demands of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the unprecedented stress it’s placed on day-to-day operations as well as long-term staffing, few facilities truly have the resources they need to stay appropriately staffed during this difficult time, not to mention also fighting against burnout while implementing new telehealth technologies.

That’s why many healthcare providers are turning to managed service programs (MSPs) to help meet the formidable task of healthcare workforce planning in the Covid-19 era. In addition to offering a much larger pool of clinical talent dispersed throughout the country, MSPs offer a suite of helpful workforce resources like hiring and billing automation, vendor-neutral technology integration and more.

Whether for a large, regional hospital network or a modest community facility (be it educational, corrective, rehabilitative, or other), managed services helps ensure staffing continuity during these difficult times, and beyond. It also offers a host of other benefits, like:  

  • Access to professional recruiters who work around the clock to meet your staffing needs
  • Access to more clinical specialists, when you need them
  • The ability to better adapt to abrupt changes in utilization
  • Up-to-date workflows and safety best practices, designed by experts to keep clinical staff healthy
  • Expertise on internal security and risk management
  • Expertise on business continuity and crisis management

If you’re interested in learning more about how managed services can help you meet your healthcare workforce planning goals today and well into the future, we’re standing by to answer your questions: Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with a CareerStaff expert.

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