The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified healthcare workforce challenges, leading to significant staffing shortages and other hurdles that continue to persist now even after the crisis stage of the pandemic has passed. In addition to the virus still infecting workers and requiring periods of quarantine, burnout from the increased demands of the pandemic have pushed many into early retirement or away from the industry entirely. Just this summer more than 40 hospitals reported critical staffing shortages, a number expected to rise this fall.
"The incredible physical and emotional toll that hospital workers have endured in caring for patients during the pandemic has, among other issues, exacerbated the shortage."
- American Hospital Association
The seriousness of the labor shortage in the healthcare industry cannot be overstated. The American Hospital Association has described it as critical, and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has issued an advisory calling it a growing threat to our individual and collective health. Like any understaffed business, often the temporary solution is to require existing staff to pick up the slack which typically means taking on tasks below their license level. In healthcare, this is especially true since data shows there is a greater shortage, and subsequently higher demand, for supporting roles. But this band-aid can exacerbate the problem and negatively impact patient care.
There are a number of consequences for failing to position staff to work at the top of their license. One of the most significant is burnout. Staff that are tasked with things outside of their scope of practice can quickly become bogged down. These feelings of burnout can impact the quality of care they are able to provide, trickling down to also affect patient satisfaction. In addition to wasting resources, the practice of redistributing things like administrative duties fails to recognize how complex many of these tasks actually are. Staff that are doing tasks that they are not trained for are less likely to be efficient or effective. This can slow internal operations, stifle related work in other departments, and again, result in negative patient sentiment.
According to a recent Mercer report, by 2025 healthcare will see a workforce gap of more than a half million workers for supporting roles, from home health aides to medical technicians. In a competitive recruiting environment, systems that burden upper-level staff with non-essential duties are less likely to attract quality candidates— or retain them. This already has already forced many health systems to limit services or rely on “traveling” staff to fill the gaps. Over 96% of healthcare facilities have been forced to rely on temporary staff, a practice that has proven problematic for personnel budgets and internal staff morale.
Healthcare workers are essential to our society and play a vital role in our healthcare system. In the face of this growing labor crisis, health systems must start looking for alternative solutions to avoid alienating their essential workers or creating a crisis of access for patients. Establishing strategic partnerships to lift the burden of non-care-related tasks can offer essential medical staff a reprieve while respecting the financial difficulties many organizations are still grappling with post-pandemic.
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