The nursing shortage is putting pressure on healthcare organizations across the country, and it’s only expected to pick up speed over the next several years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for registered nurses is expected to grow by 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, compared to just 7 percent growth across all occupations. For hospitals already feeling the strain of a labor shortage, this statistic is worrying.
With an aging baby boomer population and a growing emphasis on preventative care, many in healthcare are wondering if the industry will be able to keep up with the demand for nurses. Implementing programs to recruit quality nurses is certainly worth the effort. But equally necessary is putting your workforce practices under the microscope and developing strategies to fully optimize your current staff.
While hospitals may be experiencing a shortage of registered nurses, an organization is often exacerbating the issue through their own poor practices or overlooked opportunities. The good news is that with the right tools and strategies, it is within an organization’s realm of control to fix. There are typically three overlooked practices that are attributing to a hospital’s staffing dilemma:
- FTE leakage
- Not scheduling to volume patterns
- Turnover related to scheduling issues
When feeling understaffed, the first metric to monitor is “FTE leakage.” This is a term coined by Avantas that refers to the hours lost due to core staff not being scheduled to their FTE commitment. As a result of these lost hours, FTE leakage creates a unit’s own nursing shortage. This requires the organization to fill these shifts with more expensive contingency labor or pull staff from other units to cover the need.
Not scheduling to volume patterns
Scheduling that is not aligned with patient demand is usually at the root cause of staff shortages. The number of core staff scheduled for each shift should vary according to the trends in patient volume and predicted demand. As a basic example, if a unit experiences its peak volumes on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the number of staff on those days should be higher than the number of staff on days with lower volumes. Establishing the correct number of core staff in a facility relative to that unit’s forecasted demand, and scheduling staff to that demand, reduces instances of over or under staffing.
Turnover related to scheduling issues
A high turnover rate during a time of an unprecedented nursing shortage is far from ideal. Core staff working on a unit that is constantly understaffed, forcing them into extra hours and overtime, is quickly going to become frustrated and burned out. Exhausting your core staff leads to job dissatisfaction and encourages them to seek options outside of the organization. Turnover is costly for organizations, and a high turnover rate can significantly impact revenue, so there are significant cost-savings opportunities associated with retention efforts.
There are strategic ways an organization can leverage the workforce they currently have to mitigate understaffing problems. Predictive analytics can accurately forecast healthcare staffing needs months in advance, allowing provider organizations to optimize their staff and schedule to demand. Technology-enabled solutions, like advanced nurse scheduling software, are also able to effectively monitor if staff are meeting their FTE commitments each schedule period, reducing instances of FTE leakage. Creating more accurate schedules sooner and ensuring core staff is working to their commitments will improve staff morale, ultimately having a positive impact on patient care.