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Workforce Shortages Continue to Impact Health Care

By Kelley DeMonte, on December 21st, 2021

The Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. provided a much-needed safety net to our health care organizations with various funding and loan programs to help support payroll and other operational costs during a time where they were forced to shut down or scale back their services. For many providers this added funding helped fund the need for additional health care workers or the additional pay required to retain and recruit these essential workers. As COVID-19 restrictions have lessened and providers are now better able to respond to pent up demand for services, they are experiencing a continued challenge; they are not able to able to provide their services to full capacity because they simply do not have the workforce to do so.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that there are 4.3 million less workers in the United States since pre-pandemic February 2020. Speculation that as COVID-19 cases drop, vaccination rates increase, children returning to school, and expiring unemployment benefits would help to create a resurgence of workers back into the workforce. Unfortunately, data is suggesting that the labor shortages may continue to deepen before they improve. The pandemic shifted behavior and attitude towards working as people learned to enjoy the flexibility of a work at home environment or appreciated the break in the day-to-day high stressors of their jobs. The pandemic seems to have driven many to early retirement as the population of retirees rose 3.6 million between February 2020 and June 2021, which represents double the expected growth for this period.

Health care providers have the added challenges of competing with other industries that provide more work from home options that often aren’t feasible for our patient-based organizations. Many health care workers are stating that their work environment is not even deemed safe and the industry is predominantly feeling the pains of burn-out, stress and trauma within their workforce and added vaccine mandates are contributing to health care workers leaving the industry. Moreover, health care providers are competing with industries that can often pay more. Rising minimum wage standards are also causing significant budgetary stress as organizations need to raise lower-level wages bring some up to new minimum wage standards as well as providing compressions adjustments to others. This is all during a time where government funded programs are threatening funding reductions versus increases required to support the increased costs associated with these new standards.

Health care organizations can take some steps to mitigate the long-term impacts of this work force predicament by focusing on investments in technology, workforce retention and recruitment programs, and strategic planning.

Investments in technology can assist greatly in reducing the administrative burden on direct care type personnel and can ultimately create efficiencies and better-quality outcomes. Additionally, some investments in technology can assist in expanding work from home options for certain administrative and fiscal personnel and functions. Some organizations have reported that they have been able to effectively reduce their administrative footprint resulting in tremendous cost savings as well as improved their employee retention rate.

Smaller health care providers may not have formal staff retention and recruitment programs; however, a program dedicated to workforce retention, using data to be able to provide predictive analytics surrounding burnout, turnover, and employee satisfaction levels, can be highly effective in protecting the workforce. Furthermore, organizations need to “sell” their complete compensation offerings, which include organizational culture and potentially work/life balance options. Retention tools should also include efforts to increase employee engagement and foster their commitment to the organization’s commitment to their patients.

Strategic planning has never been more important as organizations are looking to understand what their long-term sustainability will be post the COVID-19 pandemic. CEOs and Boards are taking a hard look at current services provided under their mission and are evaluating which ones are financially viable. Compliance and regulatory demands on health care organizations are tremendous. The ever-changing compliance and regulatory landscape challenges business operations and increases workload. Sometimes the decision to stop providing certain services, while may be a smart financial decision, may have significant consequences for the communities in which they serve. More than ever Organizations are considering partnerships, alliances, and affiliations with other organizations to find ways to achieve some economies of scale and refocus the services that they provide.

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