Staff shortages throw a wrench in hospitals' compliance standards 

Workforce shortages have embroiled the healthcare industry, posing threats to patient safety, staff well-being and retention efforts. Outside of these key concerns, several healthcare leaders told Becker's shortages are also indirectly interfering with routine hospital protocols and compliance standards. 

Like many hospitals in the country, Raleigh, N.C.-based WakeMed is experiencing a shortage of nurses, administrative support staff and other healthcare providers. These shortages have led to a lack of familiarity with standard processes and procedures among travel workers or providers covering new shifts. 

A lack of advanced practice providers, specifically, is creating care gaps and often leads to noncompliance with communication protocols, according to David Hoover, MD, a pediatric surgeon at WakeMed and chief medical officer at Proficient Health.

"Our goal as providers is to make sure our patient receives the best care in a timely manner, which means we're often looking for the quickest, easiest way to contact other providers involved in their care," he told Becker's. "When APPs are unavailable, providers don't always know the resource to contact in their place, which opens the communication doors and often breaks protocol."

Dr. Hoover said WakeMed's clinical teams use a provider-to-provider mobile communication solution from Proficient Health to ensure team members can contact the right person at the right time, even when they don't know who the right person is. 

Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, chief nurse of health learning, research and practice at Wolters Kluwer, said front-line team members are being asked to care for higher-acuity patients with less support. 

"As a result, these care providers are having to balance time spent on non-nursing work with providing direct patient care and saving lives," Dr. Dabrow Woods said. The heavier workloads have left less time for healthcare providers to focus on infection control efforts. 

"Healthcare institutions have policies in place to help prevent these infections, but it's clear that providers across [the] nation are struggling to balance their patient care responsibilities with compliance to these processes," Dr. Dabrow Woods said.

CDC data shows healthcare-associated infection rates rose significantly in 2020 after years of decline, and many kept climbing in 2021. 

Dr. Dabrow Woods said open communication is key to supporting compliance initiatives and addressing shortages.

"Hospital leaders should set up meetings with their healthcare professionals to find out why people stay," she said. "Start proactive conversations with health workers to ensure they feel heard. Take their reviews seriously and show them their feedback matters. This may include providing a safe space to discuss areas they are struggling with, or policies that feel like they interrupt their patient care responsibilities and workflow." 

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