'We may not ever be fully staffed': Health system C-suites plan for the future

After the pandemic, most healthcare leaders experienced a "great resignation" as workers left for other service industries and ever since health systems have been dealing with a lack of skilled labor to backfill the vacancies.

"As we have realized we may not ever be fully staffed to the degree we were pre-COVID, we now must augment our existing workforce with technology that extends their capabilities," said Mark Moseley, MD, president of USF Tampa General Physicians and executive vice president of Tampa General Hospital. "This is a two-part challenge. First, we need to deploy technology thoughtfully with sound blocking and tackling, which is expensive in both time and capital. Second, we must train our workforce to use these new technologies to aid them in their daily responsibilities in a manner that does not diminish the ethos of why many of us went into healthcare: the interactions with patients and members of the healthcare team."

Physicians and nurses can fall on a wide spectrum of excitement or distaste for incorporating technology into their practice. Some may find it impersonal and challenging to understand while others see it as a tool boosting their capacity. Health system executive teams are identifying artificial intelligence-driven applications for automating tasks and simplifying the complex; but the hardest part is nearly always the cultural transformation required for true success.

"How can we implement technology that truly aids our workforce in aiding our physicians, providers, staff and patients? That's an interesting and complex challenge that requires thoughtful leadership," said Dr. Moseley.

Outside of investing in technology, many programs are pivoting to pipeline programs and partnerships with educational institutions to upskill the current workforce and train for the future.

Endeavor Health developed a plan to connect with people who may not be seeking a career in healthcare but would make great additions to the team. The program recruits people from the community with diverse talents and backgrounds to engage with the health system and potentially build a career within Endeavor.

"We partnered with a community organization, provided a significant grant with what's called the Aspire program, and this brings in young individuals who are looking for jobs but maybe not aware of healthcare as a career," said J.P. Gallagher, president and CEO of Endeavor Health in Evanston, Ill., during an episode of the "Becker's Healthcare Podcast." "We're bringing them directly into different roles within our organization, training them up, but also helping them feel like they belong. They're part of our organization so that they can see a career path going forward."

The Aspire program has strengthened Endeavor's talent pipeline in a variety of departments and has helped several people launch their careers in healthcare.

The system is also investing in clinicians by developing nurse leaders and identifying individuals who want to advance their specialization and take care of different patient populations. The future clinical leaders have access to scholarships and on-the-job training for chosen career paths. They also have the opportunity to mentor others and strengthen the nursing pipeline below them.

Michael Backus, president and CEO of Oswego (N.Y.) Health, is also focused on building out a talent pipeline, even with the cost of recruitment going up and clinician desire for the traditional long hours in the hospital going down.

"Caregivers are leveraging their work/life balance more than ever and given the heightened complexity of patients, especially in the behavioral health space, it's a challenge to see how we build anything but more redundancy behind the staff that we have," Mr. Backus told Becker's. "That causes increased costs as well, if you can find, recruit and onboard the clinician. It's an incredibly competitive environment right now and that is why I'm proud of the work Oswego Health has done building pipelines to bring more students into clinical rotations."

Mr. Backus said Oswego Health has spent nearly $1 million on training programs as an independent hospital health system, which is a big commitment. The initiative started years ago and has touched many students along the way. Has there been a return on the investment?

"It is starting to pay off now that some of the eighth graders we started talking with years ago are graduating and entering either the workforce or clinical education," said Mr. Backus. "More commitment to those kinds of training programs and early educational incentives to build caregivers in the communities that need them has to be a trend that we all work toward in healthcare."

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