December 16, 2022
Healthcare Industry
6 Ways To Optimize Staffing
Max Pinch

The world of long-term care and skilled nursing has become one of the most difficult to navigate. The pandemic triggered an industry-wide crisis where nurses are getting burned out, facilities are losing money, and maintaining efficiency is difficult. 

According to the American Health Care Association, the senior care sector has lost 229,000 caregivers since February 2020 and that number continues to grow. There is also rapid growth of baby boomers needing senior care, where 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age every day according to the CDC. The industry faces a brutal staffing shortage. With the ever-increasing amount of people needing long-term care, changes must occur to keep up. Finally, the growing trend of nurses wanting to leave the industry due to burnout, inefficiency, and depleting job satisfaction, is another serious issue that needs addressing. 

At the facility staffing level, a slew of inefficiencies are also contributing to staffing woes. There are too many outdated processes, scheduling gaps, obsolete communication methods, or excessive bill rates, and improvements must be made. How can facilities create an environment where their nurses don’t feel burned out, schedulers don’t feel overwhelmed, and costs are reduced? Here are 6 staffing optimizations long-term care facilities can make in order to solve the problems their industry faces.

1. Eliminate Manual Processes

Schedulers face an unfair amount of daily administrative tasks that are often overwhelming, disorganized, and huge time wasters. Struggling to fill shifts, approve timesheets, and stay up to date on credentials are tasks in need of consolidation. 

A manual scheduling system may lead to double bookings, gaps in schedules, unhappy employees, and missed patient care. The pile-up of these mistakes could be detrimental to not only facilities but patients as well. Scrambling to deal with unexpected callouts or scheduling mistakes may include a combination of texts, calls, and emails. So how do you reduce all the clutter and organize the way your facility operates on a daily basis?

Implementing a flexible workforce platform to organize and automate your workflows is a viable solution to these issues. Unifying your processes into one platform will save nurse administrators or nursing directors a crucial amount of time. They can focus on other tasks such as overseeing staff and patients, maintaining operational standards, and other more important aspects of their job. 

Keeping everything organized is the gateway to efficiency. With centralized workflows and data, schedulers and administrators don’t need to waste time organizing. Additionally, the time savings, reduction of errors, and effective planning will save facilities on administrative overhead. 

2. Plan For Flexible Staffing

Facilities across the nation have struggled with filling shifts on a consistent basis. Unexpected callouts are inevitable, and there is a definite need for an improved process. The landscape of nurse staffing has shifted, and the need for flexibility has never been more prevalent. So, having to tap into a flexible workforce will happen if it hasn’t already. The question is, are you planning for this shift and using it strategically? 

Nurses now prefer flexibility. A flexible workforce model will improve your facility in a variety of aspects. Across the country, nurses were overworked and burned out throughout the pandemic. Picking their own shifts, hours, and facilities they prefer can drive a huge spike in job satisfaction. Higher job satisfaction translates to better delivery of overall care.

One issue that every facility consistently runs into is filling last-minute scheduling gaps. Not having the required staff on hand for any given shift, can cause massive issues. Serious violations, higher stress, and depletion of patient care are all results of not fully staffing your facility. The ability to broadcast your open shifts to a pool of available nurses or caregivers in a timely manner will help to solve this recurring problem. A flexible workforce gives you a longer reach and a higher volume of potential fill-ins. 

Census numbers in the long-term care industry are always fluctuating from facility to facility. The number of beds requires a certain number of healthcare providers to adhere to census regulations. A flexible workforce allows you to adapt to these fluctuations, and make necessary schedule adjustments and provide a better environment for both your staff and residents. 

Not sure where to start when planning for a flexible workforce? Look for reliable staffing partners in the flexible workforce space. These experts will utilize technology, have staff available, and make sure your facility is using contingent staff efficiently and effectively. 

3. Prioritize Permanent Staff For Open Shifts

The proper utilization of permanent staff may seem like a non-issue. The schedules of your full or part-time staff stay relatively consistent, but there is always room for optimization. 

The under or overutilization of permanent staff is an inefficiency that is difficult to pinpoint. For example, an underutilized staff could be a case of a part-time nurse who works 16 hours per week but is able to work 24. As for overutilization, an example would be one full-time employee who consistently stays late and earns overtime every week.

These occurrences may be subtle and hard to notice, but they have a large impact on your facility's costs, patient care, and staff retention. 

Prioritizing your permanent staff to fill schedule gaps, work some extra shifts, or fill in for someone, benefits both your facility and the actual staff member. Notifying them first, before contacting an agency or using a float pool, shows them they are valuable, and that you care about their job satisfaction. Retention efforts are critical post-pandemic. Rewarding your permanent staff with extra shift opportunities can be a form of retention that helps both the facility and your staff. 

The advantages don’t end there, these extra shifts won’t be filled by an agency, which reduces your total agency spend. These savings can add up over the year and really make an impact on your facility's finances. 

When it comes to overtime, there are general times over the year that require additional staff. Identifying these times and offering some of these extra shifts to your underutilized permanent staff in advance will help you avoid overtime and balance costs. 

With a flexible workforce platform, you can begin to create a hierarchy or tier system. When occupancy goes up and shifts need to be filled, having a predetermined pecking order of your staff will have serious benefits in the long run. For example, notifying potential fill-ins in the order of permanent staff, internal float, then agency partners will both decrease costs and improve employee satisfaction. 

4. Manage Your Own Float Pools

You may be asking yourself, what exactly is a float pool? A float pool consists of a network of qualified healthcare providers that act as a supplemental staffing unit for facilities that need it. When managing one facility or many, curating your own float pool allows you to prioritize your own roster of nurses or caregivers to fill in shifts where they are needed.

Nurses and caregivers in your own float pool will already be trained to your standards, and familiar with your facility's operations making them more efficient and effective during their shifts. The costs associated with contract labor, overtime, and incentive pay will be reduced and you could save a significant amount on annual nursing labor costs. Reducing agency spend is always a plus, and utilizing your own float pool significantly contributes to that. 

When thinking in the long term, continually expanding your own float pools could slowly eliminate the need for agency entirely. Retention, nurse satisfaction, and quality of patient care could feel a significant boost due to the development of your float pool. As for supporting your full-time nursing staff, giving them the opportunity to transition into a more flexible role within their own facility could be a huge benefit to them. 

5. Credential Management

Schedulers also take on the mental weight of credential management. Keeping their facilities compliant and meeting staffing standards is mandatory to ensure quality and quantity of care at all times. 

Ensuring staffing compliance comes with its own set of challenges. There are different credentials associated with RNs, CNAs, LPNs, NPs, and other healthcare providers. Keeping tabs on these credentials is a huge time waster. Validating credentials over the phone, searching through mountains of paperwork, or endlessly digging through emails is painful for anyone. With the right credential management system in place, these painstaking tasks can be completely eliminated.

If you don't keep up to date on your staff's correct licenses, you could be in violation of certain laws. You also may be subject to pay fines. Meeting these staffing standards for your facility is paramount in keeping your residents and staying in good financial health. 

Now how do you relieve schedulers of such aggravating work and keep your facilities within compliance? The answer is implementing a credential management system. Keeping credentials digitally, in one place, will save a significant amount of time. No need to scramble to validate credentials. Always stay audit-ready and compliant. Keeping this secure information in one place greatly reduces security risks as well. No more fear of keeping the personal information of your staff in an open office space anymore.

Credential management is vital in maintaining a functioning and compliant facility. Without a proper, organized system in place, unnecessary problems and mistakes are sure to come. 

6. Create Agency Competition

Staffing agencies for long-term care and skilled nursing have planted their feet in the industry. The staffing shortage has created a reliance on them. Facilities need all the help they can get, but dealing with price gouging or inefficient communication to use them should not be accepted. Instead, you should be able to leverage competition among the agencies you use by utilizing a vendor management system or agency management software. 

You may think that agencies hold the power because you have to use them to fill shifts, but it’s entirely possible to use them to your advantage while keeping your schedule full. Expanding your agency network may seem like a burden, having to deal with the complications of requesting caregivers, passing credentials, and communicating your schedules. Using agency management software eliminates these complex communication processes by centralizing them to one place. Without adding to the complexity of scheduling and coordinating with new agencies you can expand your agency network to fill shifts. 

If staffing agencies haven't been able to meet your needs, then you may need to consider expanding your reach. You may be reluctant to increase the number of agencies you work with but with the right agency management tool, the process is simplified. Adapting to the complexities of how you request shifts, communicate schedules, and manage credentials with these new agencies is all done under one umbrella.  

Whether they have W-2 employees versus 1099, have better communication, have a higher fill rate, or save you the most money, some agencies are preferred over others. The ability to tier agencies based on criteria of your choosing is the next step towards crawling out of the staffing crisis. With agency management software you can prioritize agencies over others which creates competition. 

Creating competition between agencies will not only drive costs down but it will give you the benefit of choice. As you post shifts you will get a number of different applicants. Your internal float staff, permanent staff, favorite agencies, and other agencies will all request the shift, giving you the benefit of choice. Being able to select staff based on your criteria will create a sense of urgency. Lesser-used agencies will feel this pressure, potentially leading them to reduce costs, improve response times, or improve their effort to earn the booking. 

Now that you have created competition using vendor or agency management software, you can take it a step further by looking at the data. Analyzing fill rates, hours booked per agency, bill rates, and usage trends to propel you into a high-efficiency facility. 

Pushing optimization on a facility level is not just important, but critical in this struggling long-term care industry. Staffing is the backbone of any facility or community so prioritizing the health and growth of your staffing practices is essential. Growing fill rates, implementing a float staff, improving retention efforts, automating your workflows or above all, saving money are all achievable with the right aim. Having a progress-focused mindset in an industry that is going through a staffing crisis requires technological innovations to drive critical changes for your facility. Learn more at www.kevala.care/go/agency-management-software/.

Who is Kevala?

Kevala is a staffing solution founded in 2020 and created to help solve the healthcare staffing crisis. We provide open shift management technology made to help healthcare facilities optimize the way they staff. With an open shift management solution, healthcare facilities can fill scheduling gaps, cut agency costs, and improve overall staff retention. Using an all-in-one solution for scheduling, real-time dashboards, and agency management is how you can truly optimize the way you staff your facility. 

About the author
Max Pinch