6 Steps to Make Your Workforce Management Strategy Crisis-Ready Blog Feature
Michele Ertl-Rosner

By: Michele Ertl-Rosner on May 20th, 2020

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6 Steps to Make Your Workforce Management Strategy Crisis-Ready

workforce management | staffing and scheduling | COVID-19

As health systems navigate COVID-19 and the ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic, it’s clear that decisions related to their workforce are a critical part of their crisis response. Whether those decisions are about determining how to staff for a surge of critically ill patients or how to protect the bottom line after the cancellation of weeks of elective procedures, these decisions are high stakes and have an enormous impact on the entire organization.

These six steps are a compilation of lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis as well as key learnings from assisting customers with other crisis situations. Our goal is to provide some steps you can take now to ensure your workforce management strategy is ready for the next crisis.

1. Take an enterprise-wide approach.

When your team has a comprehensive, consolidated view of patient care needs and available staff, they can make staffing decisions that have a positive impact on clinical and financial outcomes across the entire organization. With a clear view of the entire pool of available resources, staffing is no longer done in siloes, and staff utilization can be optimized. When there is an enterprise-wide approach supported by full transparency, qualified caregivers can be moved from areas of low need to the areas with higher need, a decision that is both cost-effective and patient-centered.

Hear more from our customers about an enterprise-wide approach.

Another aspect of an enterprise-wide approach is extending the staffing strategy beyond nursing. Workforce optimization applies to all employees regardless of department, role, or responsibility. Overtime and premium labor expenditures can impact any department with non-exempt employees - all employees can call in sick, request paid time off (PTO), or work overtime. Employee satisfaction applies across the board, not just within nursing departments.

Every single employee in a hospital or health system plays a role in achieving business and financial goals. Whether an emergency department technician, nurse, housekeeper, or medical receptionist, each employee impacts the patient experience, the bottom line, and the success of the organization.

 How an enterprise-wide approach helps during a crisis: A clear picture of all available staff, regardless of their home unit or facility, along with their qualifications, credentials, and skill sets makes it possible to quickly and accurately match caregivers with patients. This fast, effective decision-making is critical during a crisis. In addition, strong staffing practices for non-clinical staff helps ensure critical support functions, such as environmental and food services, continue to function effectively. With a staffing plan that accounts for the entire team, processes like patient discharge, room cleaning, and new admissions happen seamlessly so that capacity and throughput can be maximized.

2. Standardize pay and staffing policies and processes.

It’s likely that many of your workforce management policies and processes have been in place for years. Over time, the status quo can become ingrained in daily operations, even if it’s no longer meeting the current needs of your organization. In addition, policies and processes may vary from unit to unit, making it challenging to fully embrace an enterprise-wide approach to staffing.

Standardization of policies and processes makes it possible to take a systemic and systematic approach to staffing. The process of standardizing provides an opportunity to find and fix any policy or process flaws. Workflows can be streamlined, and policies and processes can be fine-tuned to optimize staff, contain costs, and improve patient care. In addition, with standardized pay and scheduling policies across the entire organization, all staff are treated fairly and equitably.

Hear more from our customers about the benefit of standardization.

How standardization helps ensure crisis preparedness: With standardized workforce management policies and processes already in place, the team doesn’t waste time determining workflows and gaining consensus about policy, process and procedure in a crisis situation. The entire team is already on the same page regarding schedule creation processes, open shift management, and employee self-directed floating. Both staff and managers are ready to take quick action and make critical changes if necessary.  For example, consistent open shift management processes and self-directed floating options make it much easier for qualified front line staff to pick up unfilled shifts outside their home unit. That flexibility is essential in the midst of a crisis.

3. Leverage the power of mobile technology.

With convenient, 24/7 on-the-go access to workforce management information, a mobile app can provide staff and managers with a more proactive approach. Managers are not tied to their desk and can be more efficient as they manage overtime and approve timecards from virtually anywhere. Employees appreciate easy access to their timecard and schedule, and they’re empowered to submit PTO requests and pick up open shifts right from their phone.

Sound intriguing? Click here to learn more about mobile technology for workforce management.  

 How a strong mobile strategy helps during a crisis: During a crisis, information needs to be disseminated quickly and accurately, and mobile technology delivers: float employees know where to go, managers have instant access to staff requests, and everyone can see who’s working the shift. With quick and easy access to the information they need right at their fingertips, both managers and employees spend less time managing time and schedules and more time focused on patient care.

When mobile capabilities are paired with location-enabled beacons, employees have an expedited option for badging in and out that requires no physical infrastructure, resulting in reduced spread and risk of infection. For example, during the COVID-19 surge, many hospitals used location-enabled mobile technology to provide employees working at satellite testing sites with the ability to badge in quickly, accurately, and safely from their phones.

4. Use analytics to drive decisions and pivot quickly.

Your workforce management solutions provide large amounts of data, so how can you put it to use? A reliable, scalable, secure analytics tool can provide visibility to the insights you need for a complete picture of your workforce challenges. With access to your workforce performance information in real-time, you can mitigate labor cost issues, improve profitability, boost staff engagement, remain compliant, and optimize staffing.

How the right analytics help during a crisis: Knowledge is power, and decisions that are driven by accurate analytics make it easier to choose the best path during a crisis. For example, you can make rapid decisions about deploying staff based on staff skills and patient needs. A deep dive into the analytics can also help navigate the aftermath. With actionable, accurate data, your health system can mitigate any financial losses or declines in employee engagement that happened during the crisis. For example, with labor cost containment a top priority as your health systems deal with the financial impact of COVID-19, your organization can leverage staff utilization metrics to deploy existing staff in a way that meets patient needs while minimizing overtime and other premium labor costs.

5. Connect staffing to the EMR for better nurse/patient assignments.

The more information you have about patient care needs and the staff who will deliver that care, the better you can match patients and caregivers.  Using data elements mapped directly from the EMR to drive staffing decisions results in better patient care, increased staff engagement, and labor cost containment. It’s a patient-centered approach that delivers balanced outcomes.

How staffing based on data from the EMR helps during a crisis: During patient surges, clearly understanding patient needs and which staff are available and qualified to meet those needs can help ensure limited staffing resources are deployed as efficiently and effectively as possible. Whether the crisis is financial, clinical, operational or all of these, nurse/patient assignments based on accurate data about the patient and the caregiver ultimately means better outcomes in all of these areas.

6. Consult with your workforce management vendor partner to future-proof your strategy.

Your workforce management vendor should have your back, especially during challenging times. Decisions about staffing, scheduling, and pay impact every employee in the organization. Your organization should be able to rely on a vendor that provides solutions and services that help your health system make the best decisions for your team, your patients and your bottom line.

For our customers who want to build a short-term and long-term roadmap that ensures their workforce management strategy is aligned with their corporate goals, API Healthcare provides complimentary optimization assessments. 

How a strong partnership with your workforce management vendor helps during a crisis: API Healthcare works with health systems of all sizes and types across the country. We provide decades of healthcare expertise and serve as a conduit to share leading practices.

We’ve helped our customers navigate hurricanes, flooding, fires and other disasters. For example, when an earthquake disrupted payroll operations for a California customer, API Healthcare helped make sure immediate payroll deadlines were met and a long-term remote hosting strategy was put in place.

And, now we’ve helped our customers through a pandemic. Check out our COVID-19 Resources here.

Many of our API Healthcare customers have told us that their strong workforce management strategy has helped them navigate the pandemic more effectively. Customers also appreciated a quick response from our services and support teams as they made staffing and pay policy and process updates in response to the pandemic.

As we continue to navigate our way through this pandemic and the damage it leaves in its wake, health systems must quickly apply the lessons learned to strengthen their response to future crises. Whether that is a resurgence of Coronavirus in the fall, the financial ramifications of a worldwide shut-down, or regional/local events, building a crisis-ready workforce management strategy is essential. We’ll be here to help.


About Michele Ertl-Rosner

Michele has been a part of the API Healthcare team for more than 24 years, with most of her time focused on following healthcare workforce industry trends. As the mother of a daughter with many complex medical needs, she is both personally and professionally invested in finding ways to optimize the healthcare workforce to improve both the quality and affordability of care. She’s passionate about exploring new strategies for developing, engaging and staffing highly skilled, compassionate caregivers so that each and every patient receives the best care possible.

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