Staffing shortages affect so many aspects of healthcare, from the delivery of patient care to the ability of an organization to retain quality talent. The pandemic is certainly a factor in recent staffing shortages, but shortages have been brewing for decades. Rural hospitals and facilities face staffing challenges now more than ever, but there are solutions that reach beyond traditional hiring.
The Staffing Crisis
The staffing crisis seems to be at an all-time high since COVID-19 hit the states in early 2020. Recently, data shows that 25% of hospitals in 13 states are facing critical staffing shortages of not only nurses, but doctors and other medical professionals. The shortages cause hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) to turn away patients who need care. The outlook is bleak as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is increasing the statistics of cases, and is causing many emergency departments to close due to a combination of staffing shortages and over capacity. ASCs are also postponing elective surgeries due to lack of space and staffing.
The following states are seeing record, and critical, staffing shortages, with some reaching as high as 40%:
South Carolina and North Dakota – 33%
West Virginia – 39%
Rhode Island – 40%
These are all more than twice the national average of 16.5%
Arizona, Wyoming, Kentucky, Wisconsin, California, Alabama, and Oklahoma – all reporting more than 25% shortages
These staggering staffing shortages are more than just critical – they are the worst in four decades, and create a number of hardships:
- Patients traveling hundreds of miles for specialty or advanced care due to shortages
- Hospitals operating under crisis standards, resulting in support from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) employees, volunteers, or military, or DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Teams)
Ultimately, staffing shortages affect patient care, employee morale and retention, and force organizations to resort to extreme recruiting efforts to fill critical positions. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending a 5-day quarantine versus the original 10-day quarantine for healthcare workers who contract COVID. They are able to return to work 5 days after the onset of symptoms, which lessens the duration of their absence, thus mitigating the shortage in any given department.
Reasons Behind the Shortage
Staffing shortages are considerably more noticeable during the pandemic due to many factors including the influence of social media and news, and politics. Hospitals and other organizations have seen an increase in attrition due to the vaccine mandate, but not enough to create a massive dent in the operations of an entire organization. Many healthcare professionals are leaving for other reasons, such as burnout or better opportunities.
Burnout or exhaustion
Burnout or exhaustion can easily relate to the pandemic, as it places excessive stress on nurses and other healthcare professionals. Burnout can also relate to lower wages, less appreciation, and aging out of a job. The aging workforce sees many nurses working into their late 50s or 60s.
Better job opportunity, moving, or retirement
Hospitals and ASCs are consistently recruiting and offering travel nurses amazing opportunities – which is appealing to many younger nurses or healthcare professionals who want to travel throughout the year to new places.
Some healthcare professionals move due to a spouse’s new job or military deployment to a new station, or they simply want to retire from their demanding career.
Demands of patients
The demands of an elderly patient are increasingly difficult, as they require more advanced and specialized care. As patients age, so do the nurses, and the work is tiring and repetitive. For many nurses, this links back to the burnout stage of their career.
Not enough graduates
Many states have excellent nursing schools, but they just aren’t graduating enough nurses to fill the vacancies in many of the hospitals or ASCs. Some states struggle to meet even 50% of the vacancies for nurses.
Increase of COVID hospitalizations
The recent strains of COVID-19, including Omicron, are creating a high rate of hospitalizations, with many patients who are still unvaccinated. Healthcare professionals can be forced to isolate if they are infected or exposed to COVID, which results in the continuing shortage. The CDC is recommending hospitals and ASCs allow healthcare workers to return to work in 5 days if they contract COVID-19, which helps with critical shortages.
Ultimately, the staffing crisis and shortages threaten patient safety, even in the face of wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing.
The Pay Problem
Rural hospitals and ASCs face the same challenges any facility faces with recruiting during a pandemic or staffing crisis – but rural organizations have one more challenge to face that others do not – their location, and their ability to match the pay of other local organizations that pay more for entry level positions.
Competing with retail
Rural towns and counties have the basic necessities for its residents – schools, churches, a hospital, banks, grocery stores, gas stations, movie theaters, clothing chains, and yes – even WalMart, the retail giant. WalMart can easily hire entry-level employees and pay $15 to $18 per hour, but hospitals struggle to retain employees as they aim to meet the pay rate with their local competitor.
With specialized needs, such as licensed or certified technologists or nurses, it’s difficult for hospitals or ASCs in rural communities to hire without exceeding the competitor’s wages. Rural counties in states such as Nebraska, Wyoming, or Alaska must resort to sign-on bonuses for critical-hire positions, or relocation or moving reimbursement for new employees who move from out of state.
Solutions to Staffing Shortages
These may seem like daunting problems that are insurmountable, but solutions are available with some effort and foresight:
- Create value for your employees by teaching them new skills, such as a medical assistants learning the role of a scheduler or front desk staff
- Provide guaranteed coverage if an employee leaves the organization or is absent
- Develop a culture and work environment of trust and empowerment
Hospitals and ASCs in rural communities can also partner with management agencies to fill staffing gaps, or create better efficiency by shifting the focus of cases that the hospital is unable to handle because of over-capacity.
Recruiting in rural communities is challenging at best – but with a focus on cross training new hires, or using intermittent or part-time staff, the stress caused by staffing shortages is relieved and full-time employees may stay longer with an organization. Quality employees and quality care starts with ensuring that your employees have a work environment and culture where they feel empowered, valued, and appreciated.
Hiring managers should also focus on reviewing benefits packages and employee offers as they partner with their recruiting department. The relationship between recruiters and hiring managers is critical to ensure a smooth hiring process by bringing on qualified, talented professionals.
The pandemic has created an increase in the employment of foreign nurses, who are subject to receiving work Visas that were otherwise intended for relatives of American citizens, but were canceled due to COVID-19. The number of available green cards for people moving to the United States for work doubled in the last year, so healthcare recruiters are hoping to gain from the opportunity to bring on foreign nurses to aid in the critical staffing shortages around the nation.
What Coronis Health Can Do
Coronis Health is known and recognized for its medical billing and outsourcing for revenue cycle management (RCM). During this staffing crisis, think about how your facility is managing its billing or RCM, and how it contributes to your staffing woes. If you answer “Yes” to any – or all of the following questions, Coronis Health could be the solution to your staffing crisis:
- Are you short staffed because you are unable to pay or retain quality employees?
- Do you have employees who are willing and able to cross train into other roles or departments?
- Do you have part-time opportunities but are unable to hire because you are currently overstaffed?
- Do you want to relieve employee stress caused by the pandemic?
- Do you need to streamline your billing processes or RCM?
Outsourcing your billing and RCM opens up multiple doors and opportunities for you to increase employee retention, relieve stress (caused by work demands or the pandemic), create more part-time opportunities, and streamline your revenue operation. You can maximize your revenue, increase your employee’s salaries, and ultimately retain the best talent for your organization.
The pandemic is still here, and staffing shortages are still in crisis mode, but Coronis Health can be the light that creates a shining solution for your billing and staffing challenges. Call Coronis Health today, and see what solutions we can create for you.