While the nursing shortage has been a worrisome trend for decades, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this intensifying problem. Already short-staffed hospitals are having to manage capacity surge and quickly determine how to best utilize and stretch their available resources.
Addressing the unique scheduling challenges hospitals face today requires effective workforce strategies. Here are some resourceful examples to consider.
Sharing the Workload
In a typically competitive landscape, many hospitals have chosen a collaborative approach in response to the dramatic increase in patient demand. Nurse leaders in 3 New York hospitals “broke down the walls of competition” in their commitment to providing quality patient care and supporting their staff. Together, they balance the patient load across their hospitals, transferring patients based on bed capacity and available nursing resources.
Knowing that rural hospitals would be overburdened with COVID cases, the Arizona Department of Health Services proactively implemented a patient-load balancing system across the entire state. The first ever “statewide hub” was developed to understand real-time bed capacity across all their hospitals in order to efficiently distribute patients to available hospitals.
Technology can also help in supporting coordinated care. MIT’s Computer Science and Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has developed a publicly-available reporting tool which “helps determine real-time availability of hospital resources.” This web app allows an EMT, for example, to “quickly gauge hospital capacity, and decide which nearby hospitals have available beds where they can send a patient requiring hospitalization.”
Not all hospitals, however, have the advantage of a coordinated approach to sharing patient load. Rural hospitals, for example, are at a disadvantage geographically.
Repurpose & Readjust
Without the ability to transfer and balance patient load, reallocating your staff across your health system to meet the those demands is essential. With elective procedures and surgeries suddenly being postponed or cancelled, ambulatory and OR nurses can be redeployed to acute care departments to support patient care. Using ShiftWizard, hospitals can quickly identify who is appropriately licensed and cross-trained to work in those departments and best align staff based on current need.
In an incredible show of leadership, UF Health Shands Hospital, a ShiftWizard client, made the decision not to furlough any of their staff. As a way to avoid a reduction in workforce, they readily took advantage of the flexibility of the ShiftWizard platform and created entirely new labor pool departments. As patient volume decreased in some departments, cross-trained nurses were identified and reassigned to support the increase in staffing requirements in COVID units and overflow departments. Staff were also repurposed and deployed daily to cover a variety of COVID-related assignments, including visitor screenings and mask fittings. The flexibility of ShiftWizard allowed managers and staffing personnel to establish new skill sets and shift types while developing their new staffing model. The incredible foresight and preparedness of the UF Health Shands Hospital’s leadership, coupled with the ability to be dynamic with scheduling, greatly reduced the challenges created by the pandemic.
As another example, Ballad Health simply reassigned nurses from their smaller hospitals to address the capacity demands at their larger hospitals. As a result, those smaller facilities then had room to handle other medical issues outside of COVID.
Adjusting your current nurse scheduling process will also help. Configuring different shift lengths and start times can give nurse leaders more and potentially better options to assure proper coverage and workload balance. By leveraging software like ShiftWizard, hospitals can effortlessly create new shifts, adjust current shifts, add new permissions, and even build new departments to maximize your available resources.
Simple Scheduling for Complex Challenges
While some drivers of the nursing shortage require long-term solutions, nurse leaders can implement innovative solutions and new workforce strategies to reduce the effects of shortages today. Incorporating flexible scheduling software is an important component in meeting these complex challenges. Using ShiftWizard, hospitals make informed and data-driven decisions with enterprise transparency to effortlessly maximize resources.
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