Tips on Workforce Optimization and Productivity in Times of Crisis

By Stephanie Dorwart, CEO Altius Healthcare and Marshall Busko, Sr Director, Executive Advisory Solutions, Intalere

As the crisis around COVID-19 continues to affect every aspect of our daily lives, we are finding that organizations, in healthcare and otherwise, are falling into three categories during this pandemic in terms of Workforce Optimization and Productivity:

  • Frantic and distracted – lack of organization and planning around expectations moving forward; may abandon staffing ratios temporarily; unprepared for potential outbreak at their facility.
  • Meticulously planning and completely focused on the clinical needs without regard to financial impact.
  • Carefully balancing financial needs with clinical needs and acutely aware that after the pandemic their finances will be more stretched than they are today.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic and emergency preparedness discussions, hospitals, healthcare systems and clinics have, in many cases, temporarily abandoned their productivity and/or staffing targets to adapt to this crisis. On the surface, this may appear to be the best response, however, it is important to utilize important data around care needs at this point to proactively project staffing needs and better prepare for the impact they may experience.

If you have concerns with your staffing levels now or in the months to come, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Take care of yourself and your employees first – efficiency gains can come later.
  • Utilize variable budget reports and/or productivity targets to identify areas where you may have excess staff due to the changing complexities of the current environment (clinics, operating room, non-essential services, etc.).
    • Identify departments with available hours that can be shifted to different departments if required. (Example: RNs and Techs in specialty clinics that may see declining volumes in the upcoming weeks and months.) That analysis may include a review of performance against Median and Better Performing comparisons as well as performance against budgeted or targeted staffing levels.
    • Consider cross-training “non-essential staff” to potentially boost/support the services most utilized during the outbreak, such as respiratory therapy, emergency services, intensive care unit. (Example: Case Managers, Clinical Coders, Managers, Directors, etc. that may be able to temporarily be reassigned to support bedside care or be trained to administer breathing treatments in support of Respiratory Therapy.)
  • Review expected staffing needs based on appropriate staffing ratios in order to build a plan for your facility to follow if cases escalate.
  • Cross-train staff to assist in atypical, yet appropriate tasks/functions – “essential staff only” does not reduce the standard workload, just minimizes staff levels.

Include an assessment of staff within your facility that may be trained to provide support if core departments or areas become overwhelmed. (Think outside the box! Can a security guard register patients? Can Housekeeping staff support switchboard or even manage the doors for locked units?)

  • Eliminate unnecessary daily tasks to unburden scheduled staff. All unnecessary reports, requirements, meetings, projects should be temporarily suspended.
  • Identify work that can be completed remotely or in a designated area away from patients and larger groups.
  • Continue to communicate your staffing plans and expected needs during the upcoming weeks and months – a lack of information and uncertainty creates fear and fuels panic.
  • Continue to accurately track/allocate all staff hours based on where they are working, so that staff is compensated properly for their time, especially if it is overtime, on-call, or call-back time that is outside of normal pay rates.
  • Routinely review productivity/staffing reports to ensure the necessary steps are being taken to maximize available staffing levels throughout the organization.
  • Regardless of the current pandemic crisis, hospitals and healthcare organizations will need to continue their financial operations, including budget preparation. Utilize comparative data to project budget needs and adjust volume based on anticipated volume fluctuations in the next fiscal year.

While priorities are shifting and difficult to assess during this unprecedented time, utilizing industry best practices can help to ensure you are as prepared as possible during and following the outbreak. Now more than ever it’s imperative to review your current staffing levels and expected volumes during capacity surges and model staffing adjustments that can be made within your organization to maximize resources and provide the most appropriate care.

We Can Help

Intalere Labor Advantage provides a comprehensive plan and roadmap for staffing strategies and labor ratios that will support your organization during the pandemic and will provide you with appropriate financial support and adjustments following the outbreak.

Our partner Altius Healthcare Consulting Group focuses on supporting community hospitals, health systems and healthcare organizations. Their mission is to ensure you have the right person in the right place at the right time for the right clinical outcome so that your organization can deliver on your mission of providing high quality care to the community you serve. This mission has never been more important. ALTIUS offers operational assessments, staffing plans, productivity benchmarking, comparative labor metrics, implementation planning, reporting services and advisory services.

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