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HEALTHCARE STAFFING DURING A PANDEMIC

The Washington Post has reported 1.4 million healthcare jobs were lost during the month of April 2020. What happened to all those jobs? How can we possibly lose healthcare jobs in the middle of an infectious disease pandemic? It doesn’t make any sense.

Where have the healthcare staffing jobs gone? Due to changes in healthcare revenues caused by COVID-19 and the resulting stay-at-home recommendations, spending on personal healthcare dropped by over $1 trillion dollars between February and April. This resulted directly in the loss of these healthcare working positions.

Though we have heard of a shortage in healthcare workers over the last years, does this loss offset the shortage? How does a healthcare company manage their staffing needs with fluctuations of this magnitude? What systems can be put in place to manage staffing needs quickly, effectively and in a budget-friendly manner?

What Happened to all the Healthcare Jobs?

When the pandemic first broke out, there was an immediate concern that our existing healthcare system, specifically our hospitals, would be overrun with critical care patients.

This concern led to the decision to quarantine the population or encourage stay at home practices in almost all of the United States.

Many hospitals cancelled all elective surgeries and the general population began to avoid going to the Emergency Room, as recommended by the “experts”.

Though heavy waves of critical care patients have occurred in some locations, there has NOT been the overwhelming levels anticipated throughout most of the United States.

Hospital census are low. Revenues are down over 50% in many locations. Spending on personal healthcare dropped from $2.55 trillion in February to $1.5 trillion in April. That a loss of over $1 trillion dollars to the healthcare industry in 2 months. 

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This has led directly to the furlough of healthcare staff, and the loss of those healthcare jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that dental and doctor offices combined for 2/3 of the jobs lost.

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Though “loss” may be a bit of media license. Many of those healthcare workers may have changed fields. “Travel nurse” applications are at unheard of levels, according to recruiters. Many “traditional” nurses, CNAs and therapists have moved into home healthcare, nursing home/long term care or hospice fields, as well. Additionally, telehealth options are showing a surge of interest.

As the country eventually begins to “normalize”, most of those “lost” jobs will return. When it does, the demand for staff will cause another wave of shortage throughout the various disciplines as some of those transplanted staff choose to return to their roots.

A Serious Situation Turned Critical

In 2018, CNN reported the healthcare system would need an additional 2.3 million new healthcare workers by 2025, to keep up with the ageing population in America.

When you consider this pre-pandemic anticipated shortage, and couple it with anticipated fluctuations in disciplines and then factor in the anticipated loss of healthcare workers due to burn-out, this is a critical time in the healthcare industry generally.

If you own or manage a home healthcare or hospice focused organization, it is a truly nightmarish level of uncertainty.

Home Health Care News proposes that the recent woes of the hospital arena have shown the value and medical legitimacy of the home health market. Conditions that previously would have warranted admission and an in-hospital stay are now being managed at home. This could shift the public acceptance level and make in-home care more the medical standard than it has been.

Increasing census requiring higher levels of care, coupled with the potential loss of staff returning to prior positions and an underlying shortage of staff could easily lead to a “perfect storm” for your company’s staffing needs.

How can you position your company to avoid being swept away?

Solutions for Rapidly Fluctuating Staffing Needs

For your company to be ready to address the rapidly fluctuating need of staffing in pandemic or emergency situations, you need to have certain solutions in place.

  1. Remote hiring. You must have some form of ability to remotely identify potential employees, interview them, and extend job offers without any form of direct face-to-face contact. In addition to reducing infection risks, this also allows you to reach a wider pool of potential employees.
  2. Onboarding. The ability to onboard a new employee without ever having them step foot in your office, of even in your State, is obviously of high value in these times.
    Whether you’re an interstate organization or a 1-person wonder type of office, you can get an employee “hired” and working for you within hours of interview.
  3. Training. Your new staff members need to be trained in your style, paperwork, workflow and a myriad of other proprietary systems to begin productive work on your behalf. They need training on your corporate ideology, performance goals, and perhaps even need to complete licensure requirements.

    Offering these online gets your new employee “up and running” quicker, allowing them to be productive on your behalf more efficiently, while still limiting infection transmission risks.

    As a part of this training, you will want confirmatory testing. This testing needs to be gradable in real time. You will also want robust reporting, that informs you, at a glance, what has been completed by your new hire and what remains outstanding.

    This reporting should also identify any areas of weakness, so you know what additional targeted training, if any, is needed BEFORE this individual is representing your company in pubic.
  4. Skills Checklists. Finally, online checklists to help document what your brand-new employee does and doesn’t know and what remedial training, if necessary has been provided.
  5. Digital file. Finally, wouldn’t it be great to have a digital employee file where all of this information was kept in a single location. Where copies of licenses, vehicle insurance, certification and other required information could be uploaded by the new hire and maintained in a safe virtual location? This is the kind of integrated solution your company needs.
  6. Working Capital. When staffing issues become tight, frequently “sign-on” bonuses are offered to entice the few available staff in your favor. Keep a good 3-months of potential funds liquid in case of this need. You want to be able to draw the available employee to your door, not your competitors.

Final Thoughts

With the existing shortage in healthcare workers, the anticipated ongoing shortages in these key personnel and the proven wild fluctuations the staffing market can offer, your company needs to take a hard look at their existing employment processes and make the necessary changes to keep your cutting-edge and profitable through the existing crisis and into the next.