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How Hospitals Can Surge Staffing to Match the COVID-19 Patient Surge

hospital staff

Many US Hospitals were facing significant staffing challenges before COVID-19 hit. Now, the surge in COVID-19 infected patients is overwhelming hospitals in ‘hot spot’ urban centers.  

Compounding the staffing problem is the high infection rate among clinical workers. In the hardest-hit areas, as many as 20-30% of clinical staff and frontline healthcare workers are becoming infected with coronavirus, taking them off-line for 14 days and creating a hole in the care delivery system that cannot easily be filled.

Not all hospitals face this problem today. But they surely will over the next few weeks. 

A number of smart solutions are already being implemented to help alleviate the severe staffing shortages our healthcare systems now face. Accelerating graduations for nurses and medical students, importing talent from other states/regions, moving retirees back into service, and allowing nurses to practice at the highest levels of their licensures are remedies that are making a difference.

Even with these measures, many hospitals will still not have enough clinical staff to handle the surge in patients they are or will be experiencing. 

To match the surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitals need to surge their staffing. Traditional staffing processes have hospitals filling RN openings in 20-60 days and MD openings in 3-6 months. These cycles need to be reduced to less than a week. To accomplish this, hospitals will need to immediately develop different staffing approaches using accelerated processes. 

Here’s what’s required to accelerate staffing processes:

  1. Create a central staffing control center that has clear visibility into all hiring requirements, all internal candidates, and all external market sources so that talent demand and supply can be assessed and resources deployed as critical needs develop.
  2. The biggest time-waster in any staffing process is the back-and-forth between HR and hiring managers for application review, interview set-up, conducting interviews, etc. In a crisis, the clinical delivery staff will not have time to devote to the massive, urgent interviewing required to fill positions quickly. The Staffing Center should be staffed with interviewers who can make clinical evaluations on behalf of the entire hospital in real-time. This single step will cut days and even weeks from traditional hiring processes.
  3. Give the Staffing Center the power to make hiring decisions quickly. This may involve relaxing standard hiring process requirements like background checks and reference-checking by allowing people to start working before these processes are completed. It may also require the ability to make on-the-spot offers and accelerate start dates to nearly immediately.
  4. Create a COVID-19 Staffing Portal for your Career Website, especially for per-diem workers. Require only essential information from candidates during the application process. Make it easy for the candidate to apply and provide responses to all applications within 24 hours. Compress onboarding time as much as possible.
  5. Move candidates from resume/application review straight into interviews using Skype or Zoom (or other video tools). Set high-volume interview schedules and interviewing staff in advance, and populate those schedules based on the strength of the resume/application review. There will be no time for additional screening steps.
  6. Open the gates to hire Diploma Nurses and LPNs. All trained clinical specialists will be needed to get through the surge in caseloads.
  7. Target clinicians who work outside of hospitals. In any market, only 50-60% of all licensed RNs work in acute care hospitals. It’s time to target the other 40+%.
  8. To accomplish all of the above, overstaff the Staffing Center, not only with recruiters but with clinical screeners, administrators, and on-boarders. You will need more staff than you think to accomplish the new speed objectives.

Accelerating staffing cycles is not easy, especially in healthcare where credentialing and quality considerations have always driven process decisions. And please don’t misunderstand relaxing some of the hiring process rules to gain speed with lowering the quality of hiring standards—they are not at all the same and making quality hires should still be paramount for all process decisions. 

Hiring in a crisis requires a highly accelerated process, and rational trade-offs will need to be made in order to meet surging demands for trained workers. If you haven’t started changing your processes today, you are probably already behind.