The future of talent acquisition — Insights from 3 health systems

Although the United States has 5.6 million actively licensed nurses — an all-time record number — many hospitals and health systems are still struggling to recruit and retain staff. Nationwide, the RN vacancy rate is 9.9%, while the average time to recruit an experienced RN ranges between 59 and 109 days.

During Becker's 14th Annual Meeting in April, ShiftMed hosted a panel discussion focused on how flexible staffing can reshape organizations' approach to workforce management. Panel participants were:

  • Jennifer Garnica, RN, BSN, vice president, patient care services, and CNO, SSM Health; St. Mary's Hospital – St. Louis
  • Tim Johnsen, RN, senior vice president and chief operating officer, Presbyterian Healthcare Services (Albuquerque, N.M.)
  • Beatrice Miller, RN, system senior director nursing operations and optimization, Luminis Health (Annapolis, Md.)

Five takeaways:

  1. On-demand staffing taps into the community's latent workforce. Hospitals and health systems have found local nurses and medical staff appreciate on-demand staffing options. "It's a mindset of expanding your staff with people in the community," Ms. Garnica said. "They're not agency staff coming from different states and bouncing in and out of 13-week contracts. These employees have a lot of ownership — they work in the community at fellow hospitals and like the idea of coming to a different hospital to pick up a shift."

    Presbyterian Healthcare Services believes its on-demand nurse pool will attract both individuals who are new to the organization and former employees. "This model is great for people who have wanted to check out Presbyterian — they can try a shift or two," Mr. Johnsen said. "Some of our workforce that left during COVID may also want to return to work and this is a great way to do that."

  2. On-demand staffing creates flexibility for employees and healthcare organizations alike. Nurses and other healthcare talent are looking for flexible schedules. At the same time, hospitals and health systems need flexibility as patient volumes change. Luminis Health, for example, is turning to on-demand staff to deal with hospital capacity constraints.

    "Recently, we've had quite a few boarders in our ER," Ms. Miller said. "On-demand staffing will allow us to care for patients in the ER that aren't able to come upstairs. Partnering with ShiftMed for external per diem nursing offers an opportunity to expand and contract as needed."

    When a competitor hospital in Albuquerque was down for a full month due to a cyberattack, Presbyterian Healthcare Services was able to absorb those patients thanks to its on-demand staff. "We realized that we could open up ShiftMed for as many shifts as possible, especially in the emergency department," Mr. Johnsen said. "It was extremely beneficial to get this surge of nurses at a time when we needed them quickly. The proof of concept certainly played out."

  3. Hospitals find that on-demand staffing is a way to attract full-time and part-time employees. SSM Health has converted almost 100 nurses that picked up shifts on demand to permanent employees. "We engage them in our practices and include them in huddles," Ms. Garnica said. "Most of the core on-demand staff that pick up four shifts a week for us work in the same areas and come back to the same hospital. We reward and recognize them like our own staff."

  4. Quality care goes hand-in-hand with flexible staff pools. SSM Health has seen great quality outcomes after bringing on-demand staff. Onboarding is one key to success. "You need to get people onboarded correctly and make sure they understand the standards of practice," Ms. Garnica said.

  5. On-demand staffing isn't just for nursing. Healthcare staffing shortages extend beyond nursing to other ancillary disciplines. Both SSM Health and Presbyterian Healthcare Services are looking into using on-demand staffing for positions like respiratory therapists and radiology techs.

Many healthcare leaders believe that flexible staffing options are the future. Healthcare competes for the same talent as many other industries that have already embraced flexibility. If organizations don't adapt, they will struggle to stay ahead.

"Building a workforce outside your four walls using local talent gives you access to more resources than ever before," Ms. Garnica said. "It's been wildly successful for us. Staff like the flexibility, it's easy to fill shifts and it helps us operate our hospital in a much more efficient way."

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