A Robust Workforce Strategy: Leveraging All of the Tools in our Toolbox

Hospitals and health systems have spent years sounding the alarm: there are not nearly enough working nurses in the field to meet patient demand.

The state of healthcare’s workforce was precarious before the pandemic; Covid made it more vulnerable than ever.

Today, demand for qualified healthcare professionals is higher than ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the country will need an additional 203,200 registered nurses every year from now through 2031. Hospitals need all the certified help they can get. 

Health systems find themselves in a tight spot. Margins are tighter than ever and shrinking by the year. For some, the financial threat is existential. Ask any operations executive, and they’ll tell you flat out: when patient demand escalates, many hospitals feel they have no choice but to rely on staffing agencies. Hospitals may pay a premium for those services, but when the health of a community is on the line, the choice seems clear. 

Some hospitals, however, have discovered an additional workforce solution: independent nursing professionals. These are nurses who, in many cases, have found that the flexibility of working independently under a 1099 classification best suits the way they want to live and work. Many are the same nurses who have left full-time positions coming out of the pandemic. Some are coming out of retirement to pick up shifts that work for their lifestyle. Whatever the reason, these are highly educated, well trained professionals seeking the same flexibility often afforded to their physician counterparts. 

Staffing agencies that use a W2 model don’t like this. They’ve been vocal about their opposition to independent nursing professionals in countless op-eds, through marketing campaigns, by feeding the rumor mill in nurse communities. Their motive is clear: they see independent nursing professionals as a threat to their business model. It’s a model that exploits hospitals and exacerbates labor spend. 

At the end of the day, hospitals need all of the tools in their toolbox, including their own full-time nurses, nurses with specialized experience and qualifications from travel staffing agencies, and nurses from their own backyards who may have extra time on their hands to pick up shifts. This is how hospitals will develop a robust, long-term workforce strategy to achieve labor resiliency.

The reality is, today’s U.S. healthcare systems are in the midst of a workforce crisis that could have a severe impact on the health and wellbeing of our communities. Contracting independent nursing professionals is a pliant, additive strategy in a market that has become entrenched with rigid, costly solutions. When patient demand is high, hospitals can use independent nurses to staff up quickly. When hospitals have fewer patients, they can better manage costs. 

Nursing shortages continue to escalate across the country, leading to overburdened and burned out nurses. This has a demonstrable impact on patient outcomes and the patient experience, leading to more errors, higher morbidity, and frustrated patients. Hospitals and health systems need practical labor innovation — including technology-enabled workforce solutions that are easy to use, quick to plug in, can change their business for the better, and, most importantly, help ensure their teams are providing the best patient care.

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