Healthcare providers are finding new ways to staff facilities in response to rising costs for travel nurses and rising COVID-19 cases.
High demand for nurses has created a competitive market for temporary staffing, leading some healthcare companies to leverage internal resources and change existing staffing structures to meet patient needs.
The resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic Powered by the Delta variant, especially in states with low vaccination rates, it is overwhelming providers whose staffing shortages have worked just as demand increases. States like Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri and Texas are suffering significant increases in everyday cases, hospitalizations and deaths, which generates an urgent need for health professionals.
As a result, those practitioners can earn higher salaries. Nurse salaries increased fivefold during the most competitive period in that job market during the pandemic, said Betty Jo Rocchio, senior vice president and director of nursing at Mercy Northwest Hospital in Rogers, Arkansas.
Hospitals can control the cost of temporary staffing by monitoring local and regional COVID-19 statistics and hospital-specific workforce trends, said Blaine Douglas, managing director of Vichern. “It is also important to have a partner to accelerate the onboarding process when the need arises, with flexibility around requirements that do not compromise patient safety,” he said.
Mercy Hospital takes a regional approach to staffing, floating its nurses among communities to address needs when they arise and to provide expertise in specific areas, Rocchio said. Mercy aligns the tallest patient’s hours with the hours her nurses are on site, she said.
The hospital supplements its workforce through partner agencies that bring in nurses with critical specialties, such as those with experience in emergency medicine and critical care and those who have treated COVID-19 patients, Rocchio said. A large contingent of recent nursing school graduates also provided a staff surge, he said.
While many healthcare providers thought the cost and difficulty of recruiting clinical staff would decrease as the pandemic unfolds, they now anticipate that the situation will not change until well into next year, said Beth Feldpush, senior vice president for policy and advocacy for America’s Essential Hospitals. The safety net hospitals trade group continues to pressure President Joe Biden’s administration to distribute surplus relief funds to help providers pay for adequate staffing, he said.
Hospitals must be flexible and agile to function effectively during public health emergencies when it comes to mobilizing, reassigning and recruiting workers, said Tener Goodwin Veenema, a fellow scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
New approaches to hiring and staffing can also save hospitals money, Veenema said. The pandemic has shown that retaining the existing workforce with better wages and benefits is more profitable than relying on traveling nurses, he said.
“If the pandemic taught employers anything, it would be to value their workers,” David Coppins, co-founder and CEO of IntelyCare, a Quincy, Massachusetts-based health care personnel company, said in a news release.
IntelyCare turned all of its contractor workers into employees and offered them additional benefits to better compensate them for their heavy workload and the emotional strain of treating COVID-19 patients, Coppins said. The result has been higher retention and more hiring, he said.
“At IntelyCare, we’ve heard first-hand from nurses who want increased health and neglect insurance, retirement plans, wellness services, childcare discounts and help with necessities like groceries,” Coppins said. “Making this type of investment can go a long way in ensuring that workers feel protected and appreciated.”
While these strategies can be effective, the most permanent solution to rising labor costs is to end the pandemic, Zeenema said. “I hope that we will see an increase in vaccination rates to protect our national healthcare workforce and protect nurses as one of our most valuable assets,” he said.