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Hospitals face staffing domino effect from the coronavirus outbreak, adviser says

Chris Plance, healthcare expert at PA Consulting, is quoted extensively in Healthcare Financial Management regarding US hospital staffing issues and financial challenges from the coronavirus.

Read the full Healthcare Financial Management article here

Chris says that increasing clinical care demand from the coronavirus outbreak will test hospital staffing, and unique “personal needs” of hospital workers could exacerbate personnel shortages. The expected surge in coronavirus patients seeking care at hospitals will create a range of staffing issues. His prediction followed widely reported projections that 4.8 million hospitalizations will be associated with the novel coronavirus, according to a February webinar by the American Hospital Association.

Staffing shortages may be driven not only by a surge in patients but by hospital workers who need to self-quarantine after becoming ill from the virus or miss work to care for ill family members or children home from closed schools.

He adds: “This is a domino effect made worse by the fact that a lot of people have families.”

Hospital staffing shortages may include:

  • Nurses as hospitals compete for staffing agency support
  • Certified nursing assistants, exacerbated by low pay
  • Environmental services and transportation staff

Shortages may be aggravated by the traditional hospital practice of staffing at about 60% of patient census and then adding staff as needed through float pools. The challenge is especially serious for smaller hospitals, which may share a float pool with other facilities.

Chris continues: “So, if everybody is staffing up at the same time, those pools don’t cover everybody.”

Smaller hospitals also tend to have less cash reserves, making it harder to afford costly agency clinicians.

Looking for staffing solutions

Chris says that hospitals are figuring out how they will respond to staff shortages, as none have yet become overburdened. Hospitals can respond with a variety of measures that include:

  • Pulling physicians in from primary care practice settings or from specialties focused on elective procedures
  • Incentivizing float pool nurses to prioritize a certain hospital
  • Pursuing financing to support personnel needs

He continues: The financial challenges from meeting staffing demands could be exacerbated by delays in payment as health plans decide how they are going to pay for coronavirus care. “Your receivables could get quite aged. I would have the expectation that that would occur.”

Recognizing demands on the workforce

Hospital executives should examine their staffing capacity in light of the closure of many schools, which may not allow staff to come in to work. Community hospitals may need to find ways to provide daycare or other family support to ensure staff are available, he said.

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