Health systems see internal staffing agencies as path to solving labor challenges

Hospitals and health systems have navigated through various challenges throughout the pandemic, but staffing is expected to remain top of the agenda for hospital executives over the coming years.

Maintaining adequate staffing in key patient areas such as nursing, ancillary services and clinics continues to challenge hospitals and health systems that are seeing many healthcare workers exit the profession.

An October report from Definitive Healthcare found that 333,942 healthcare providers, including more than 117,000 physicians and 53,295 nurse practitioners dropped out of the workforce in 2021 due to retirement, burnout and other pandemic-related stressors. Furthermore, an American Association of Critical-Care Nurses survey in August found that 67 percent of nurses plan to exit their current role within three years, while 60 percent of nurses in a ConnectRN poll said that they don't believe their employers are doing enough to address ongoing shortages.

Staff shortages are projected to affect the healthcare sector for the foreseeable future, and many hospitals and health systems are looking at innovative ways to solve their respective labor and financial hurdles. One such idea that has grabbed headlines — prompted by staffing shortages and the high cost of travel nurse pay — is internal staffing agencies. 

"Building out an internal [staffing program] makes sense on a number of different levels," Kuipe, CEO of Omaha, Neb.-based CHI Health, told Becker's in April. "We're planning on recruiting people from the outside, recruiting people from within, to join this workforce pool that can be allocated to wherever the highest needs in the division, in the system might be."

Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health, an 88-hospital system, launched its own internal staffing agency before the pandemic, according to CEO Mike Slubowski. The initiative helped Trinity deploy nurses and other clinical specialists to hospitals in need during the pandemic.

"We saw a huge opportunity to create our own staffing agency, which includes about 2,000 nurses, Mr. Slubowski told Becker's. "It was very helpful at points where we needed external support and it was a way to retain nurses who were going to leave because they were seeking more flexible arrangements."

Internal staffing agencies can save health systems money because they can avoid paying the fees that external agencies require, which skyrocketed during the pandemic. 

Mr. Slubowski highlighted Trinity's internal staffing agency as one of the key initiatives the health system is leaning on to improve its financial performance by $1.5 billion over the next 12 months.

Other health systems that have launched their own staffing agencies include Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health Network, Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health, Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare and Detroit-based Henry Ford Health.

While the healthcare sector may never be temp-agency free, internal staffing agencies and flexible hospital work teams "are going to change the labor market," Claire Zangerle, DNP, RN, chief nursing executive at Allegheny Health Network, told Kaiser Health News.

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