When the number of patients admitted to your facility surpasses the maximum capacity per worker, quality of care and safety standards can suffer. Sadly, this is a common occurrence at medical facilities around the country.
There are many reasons for staffing shortages. Some health care workers call in or don’t show up for shifts due to health events and personal obligations. Others are merely burned out.
Nurse burnout is at epidemic levels with an estimated 17% to 30% of new registered nurses leaving their jobs within the first year of working. One in three leave within two years. This has led to a nationwide nursing shortage.
But it’s not only registered nurses. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a critical shortage of all levels of health care professionals, from nurses and doctors to LVNs and CNAs. In November of 2020, it was reported that greater than 1,000 U.S. hospitals were critically short on staff.
There are a few other reasons for healthcare staff shortages. The aging population is one of them. The Baby Boomer generation is a demographic that requires frequent medical care, often from specialists. People are also living longer than ever before, with many forced to manage chronic conditions as they reach their Golden Years. Doctors are also retiring in large numbers. In fact, the American Association of Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of as many as 122,000 physicians by the year 2032.
A shortage of clinical and non-clinical staff is putting a major strain on the healthcare industry. It has led to some facilities halting or limiting non-essential procedures. But the biggest problem is related to safety risks when patient admittance outnumbers staff.
When staff becomes thinner than the patient load, all sorts of calamities can happen. Patients face fall risks all the time, but what if their call lights don’t get answered? Staffing shortages can contribute to delayed responses. Then there are medication errors, bedsores that don’t get tended to, and a slew of other problems that contribute to patient dissatisfaction, patient accidents, and patient deaths.
Is your medical facility understaffed? Here are the signs to look for, as well as some valuable tips that could help reduce medical errors by ensuring every patient has the proper number of staff to achieve and maintain quality health care standards.
Is Your Facility Understaffed? Signs to Look For
Medical staff burnout isn’t always apparent. Health care is hard work and it’s common for employees to be downright exhausted by the end of a shift. However, you can identify burnout by increasing instances of employees asking for more days off than usual. If coworkers are snapping at one another with regularity or they seem to be going off on patients at enhanced rates, it’s highly likely you’re dealing with a staff burnout situation.
When staff burns out due to worker shortages, your medical facility could see an increase in turnover. More medical staff are retiring because of short staffing and burnout. Some are accepting less stressful job offers that don’t involve direct patient care. And many nurses are turning to travel nursing, which offers higher pay and other attractive benefits without being forced to take on more tasks or longer hours due to shortages of staff.
If burnout is affecting your medical facility, don’t think hiring more staff is the answer, as those employees may quit soon after being onboarded if the shortages continue.
When health care employees become overworked, they aren’t able to give the same levels of quality care to each of their patients. This leaves patients feeling ignored and incensed enough to file complaints. Pay attention to complaints to determine if there is a common theme among them. When patients do speak up, they might mention the lack of cleanliness of the facility, the fact that errors were made by their health care team, or that they are forced to do tasks on their own that are typically reserved for your staff, which can risk their safety (and open you up to legal liability).
Your number one objective is to ensure patient satisfaction remains high. This is difficult to do when your staff is worn thin with no reprieve in sight.
Staff Asking for Assistance
Keep an ear open for staff asking for help in larger numbers than is customary for your facility. Signs that you are dealing with a staffing shortage include employees worried about completing tasks on time and staff feeling overly stressed and overworked.
More Workplace Injuries
When your medical facility is short-staffed, your current employees may have trouble juggling their current workloads. In addition to errors being made, they might take on tasks they are not necessarily equipped to handle. Workplace injuries can result, which can leave you even more short-staffed than before. When an employee becomes injured due to a staffing shortage, your medical facility could find itself in legal trouble as well.
Ideas to Mitigate Staffing Shortages and the Problems They Cause
Shift Staff Responsibilities
One way to alleviate staff shortage problems is to put skilled employees such as administrators with clinical licenses to work assisting with patient care. You may also consider having licensed nurse practitioners take on greater responsibility. This adding of responsibilities can help fill gaps in shift shortages without having to hire more staff.
You may also try redistributing your facility’s scheduled shifts. Have your nursing unit manager boost staffing on busy days and in the busiest units, for example.
Tap Educators and Students
Asking nearby medical colleges and universities to lend a hand when staffing shortages become an issue is one good possibility of lessening the burden on your current staff. Nursing schools have educators and students who can fill spots when the need is great. Examples of tasks that can be divvied out to both instructors and students include meal deliveries, turning patients to prevent bedsores, or emptying trash cans. These volunteer tasks are ideal for helping out current staff when shortages become too abundant, and burnout is high.
Increase Recruiting Efforts
Another option is to offer sign-on bonuses for medical workers seeking employment. If your budget can sustain such perks, this is a good way to keep employment rates at optimal levels while making the roles competitive and lucrative enough for jobseekers.
When hiring new staff, determine which units need the most help and prioritize those open positions. This may not be easy with a nationwide shortage of nurses and other medical staff. You may need a mix of both part-time and full-time employees, or per-diem nurses who are on-call for those times when unexpected staffing shortages exist.
Hiring more staff can help each patient receive the level of care that is commensurate with the standards set by your medical facility. If your budget doesn’t allow for the onboarding of additional staff, you may need to look for ways to reduce spending in other areas to allow for new hires.
Increase Retention Efforts
Instead of hiring new staff, try keeping the workers you currently have. Some medical facilities are boosting salaries and offering attractive bonuses to their existing health care staff. In addition to bolstering earnings, you may try sweetening the pot by adding additional time off, reduced on-call shifts, and paid sabbaticals. Other ideas include student loan reimbursements, subsidized housing, and referral bonuses. This may make staff happier to stay on instead of looking for greener pastures when staffing shortages become too much to handle.
Eliminate Redundant Work
Though this may take strategic planning on the part of the administrators at your medical facility, it might pay to design, implement, and optimize advanced technologies to simplify or eliminate redundant work. As one example, consider making use of telehealth systems to serve patients. More health care organizations are implementing telehealth systems to free up resources when possible while adding to the quality of care.
You can also improve clinical efficiency and productivity by implementing electronic health record systems that allow physicians and other medical staff to access data more quickly, allowing for improved doctor-patient communication and overall employee production.
Open a Staff Pipeline by Partnering with Local Schools
In addition to looking for volunteers at local schools, consider partnering with local school districts and vocational schools to establish employee pipelines. You can seek out specific skillsets for nurses, doctors, and other medical staff. This allows you to fill shortages as needed while also giving recent graduates a chance to make their mark in the world of health care.
Work with a Medical Staffing Agency
One of the best contingency plans for reducing the risk of accidents and burnout of your medical staff is to partner with a staffing agency or temp agency. These companies carefully vet and hire employees to ensure they are pre-trained and ready to work the moment your organization onboards them. This alleviates the need to train and orient new staff. You can schedule the new temp workers immediately to lighten the load for your current team of employees, giving them a much-needed break.
Is Your Medical Facility Understaffed?
Medical facilities in the United States are facing an unprecedented shortage of workers, and the problem is only getting worse. From hospitals and clinics to private practices, labs, and others, a dire need for health care employees is putting patients at risk and leaving the health care facilities themselves open to legal liability.
The ideas outlined above can help to relieve workers so that quality patient care is sustained, and patient satisfaction remains high.
By far the greatest investment a hospital or other medical facility can make when staffing shortages reach redline levels is to partner with a staffing agency like ProLink Healthcare Staffing.
ProLink partners with medical facilities across the nation to provide a deep pool of qualified candidates upon demand. These medical workers fill the gamut of critical care roles, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, administrators, dieticians, and many more.
When you partner with ProLink, we get to know your medical facility and the way it operates. We want to know your operation goals so that we can fill your staffing shortages with medical workers who can help your organization achieve greatness.
We carefully vet, interview, and hire based on the standards you establish, letting each temp employee you hire hit the ground running as soon as they arrive. If burnout, accidents, and other problems are affecting your facility, it’s likely that a staffing shortage is to blame. No matter how many staff you need to fill the gaps, we offer staff on-demand and at scale.
Partner with ProLink today and make employee burnout and patient dissatisfaction a thing of the past for your medical facility.