Standardizing scheduling practices helps to streamline health system consolidation

Hospital and health system consolidation continues to be bustling business. Healthcare organizations across the country are coming together for a variety of reasons, such as to improve efficiency and expand access to care.

Consolidation of health systems is made up of many moving parts and can be shrouded in a lack of clarity if priorities are not set and communicated. When combining multiple facilities, it is an opportune time to transition from a silo approach to workforce management to one in which processes are streamlined and applied at the enterprise level.

While many aspects of the new venture may not change, such as quality of care, work processes such as staffing and scheduling may vary significantly between each hospital, or even unit to unit. This necessitates alignment of policies to ensure the consolidation achieves the desired results.

With labor costs accounting for more than half of an organization’s budget, standardization of staffing and scheduling practices hold the key to realizing significant cost savings. Along with damaging the bottom line, misalignment of policies across the system can be equally destructive to the quality and continuity of care, as well as staff morale.

Creating a workforce plan by conducting an operational assessment of the health system’s current state of labor management can reveal critical areas of opportunity to fully realize the expected outcomes of the merger. Highlighting the changes needed to achieve the organization’s ideal state and prioritizing initiatives helps leadership implement staffing and scheduling practices to promote consistency, efficiency, and productivity. Conducting such analysis identifies realistic savings opportunities resulting in strategic realignment and can lead the cultural shift through smoother transition.

In 2015, WellStar Health System acquired five Atlanta-area Tenet Healthcare hospitals.
While assessing which initiatives should be prioritized at the onset of the acquisition, it was determined that the automated staff scheduling software already being utilized in the current WellStar facilities would be rolled out to the newly acquired hospitals.

Automated scheduling software that is fueled by predictive analytics offers optimized staffing across the enterprise by forecasting patient demand weeks in advance. Analyzing historical census data and other metrics for each unit, accurate forecasts help ensure the right type of provider is in the right place at the right time.

Paola Buitrago, Assistant Vice President of Workforce Engineering at WellStar Health System has seen the value realized from prioritizing standardization. “Standardizing processes and expanding our advanced scheduling software to the newly acquired facilities has allowed us to expand our central staffing office and float pool, improving the coordination of resources and efficiencies across the enterprise,” Buitrago said.

The success that WellStar Health System achieved through the acquisition process was not by chance. Leadership prioritized developing an integration plan that included focusing on which technologies and tools would take precedence during the consolidation. This was made possible by having a strong core team of leaders and champions from various departments within WellStar and Tenet that were aligned with the organization’s vision.

Additionally, WellStar had a strong background of best staffing practices and guidance and support of workforce management experts. Jill Case-Wirth, CNE of WellStar Health System, says having this knowledge allowed leadership to identify priorities and make strategic decisions during the integration. “Standardizing workforce practices and embracing an enterprise mentality allows for predictable outcomes and a system of fairness,” Case-Wirth said.

If staffing and scheduling practices are not standardized during the implementation of the merger, there may be bumpy roads to navigate when attempting to implement other initiatives. Bringing together multiple hospitals or health systems is more than a union of facilities, staff, and services under one name. Operating procedures and culture must be heavily considered.

Streamlining staffing practices such as schedule periods, open shift and float staff policies, contingency staff scheduling procedures, overtime and PTO policies across all departments within the system can have a significant impact on an organization’s staff, patients, and their bottom line – helping to achieve the outcomes they expected from the consolidation.

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