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Nurse Shortages: How to Minimize Impact in Your Health System

Due to nurse shortages, many hospitals are making hard decisions about which service lines to keep, pare back, or sunset. We’re seeing increased numbers of hospitals suspend or cut servicesconsolidate service lines, and/or convert units from one type into another.

Fortunately, there is a better way to approach the nurse shortage than scaling back services. A smart staffing strategy that offers travelers and gig workers the flexibility they want is essential for protecting your organization from financially and operationally painful service cuts.

Reducing services as a cost-saving measure often incurs steep secondary costs.

Challenge #1: Service line cuts can have ripple effects that reduce overall revenue-generating capacity. “When hospitals close beds, it affects all procedural areas: radiology, cath lab, surgery, and more. Those procedural environments typically produce 60% or more of a hospital’s revenues,” says Matt Dane, DNP, MBA, RN, Vice President of Business Development at Hallmark Health Care Solutions. Consequently, service cuts in one area can lead to a vicious cycle in which the hospital struggles to produce adequate revenue to keep the doors open.

Challenge #2: Service line cuts or restrictions often demoralize the current workforce and erode the ability to attract prospective clinicians. Remaining workers may even begin planning their exits out of fear their area will be next. Similarly, these service line closures can tarnish relationships and affect whether physicians and practices will continue to utilize your facilities.

Mitigating these risks comes down to a central question, says Jennifer Reau, MSN, RN, VP of Workforce. “How do you hire and retain talent to meet the needs of your patients and communities?”

Put yourself back in control of your staffing.

Foundationally, it’s important to understand that the clinicians you want to hire are out there. They’re just not working for you. Instead, they’re working for agencies that have figured out what nurses want and have the technology and employment models to match. For many nurses attracted to the prospect of traveling or contingent work, it’s a no-brainer to work for an agency that pays more and gives more flexibility.

Here are three key factors in hiring and retaining top nurses:

1: Start by offering the nurses what they want – flexible employment models.

Adopting flexible employment models or programs that offer more freedom, flexibility, and control can help retain valuable staff. “We’re in an applicant market where demand greatly outweighs supply,” says Dane. “Right now, we have to meet applicants where they are to attract them and provide what they want for their work-life balance.”

2: Next, make sure you’re connecting with nurses where they are – on their devices.

Nurses today (like most people) live on their devices. They want to interact with hospitals via apps, text messages, and email. They want the ability to choose shifts via the same channels, which is only possible with high-performing technologies like Hallmark's Contingent Labor Platforms.

“The nurses who use it love the app, the messaging capabilities, the flexibility,” says the Director of Nursing at a New Hampshire-based health system that uses Hallmark's Contingent Labor Platform.

Part of the equation is managing volume variability in a timely way. Contract labor isn’t a quick process; it can take up to 30 days to get an agency clinician onsite. Having your own internally managed “agency” or resource pool with nurses allows hospitals to respond quickly to census or volume changes. And these nurses are never more than a text message away.

3: Finally, engage your nurses – in the ways only a hospital or health system can.

Do not underestimate the appeal to clinicians of having a steady, ongoing relationship with a health system and the ability to schedule their shifts at their convenience from their phones. That’s a combination that not even agencies can offer. “You’re keeping your employees engaged because you’re offering them exactly what they’re looking for,” says Dane.

The critical role of workforce management technology for nurses

As mentioned at the outset, technology is an essential player on your path to success, both internal and external. Also, it needs to be smart technology specifically built for healthcare workforce management.  Hallmark's Internal Resource Pool and Hallmark's Vendor Managed Solution & Support incorporate automation, AI, advanced analytics, robust integration, and convenient communication with vendors, candidates, contractors, and staff. All of these can be added to one single source of truth technology. The result for Hallmark's users? Improved recruitment and retention for more open beds and services – plus substantially reduced total labor spend.

That’s how hospitals keep service lines open. “Insourcing is how you start to risk mitigate in this financial climate,” says Reau. “It’s how you strengthen the stewardship of your financial dollars, become better healthcare providers to your community, and improve relationships with your providers, clinicians, and everybody within your organization.”