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Navigating Healthcare Staffing During Holiday Surges

December 7, 2023

The holiday season presents unique challenges for healthcare organizations— even more so in the midst of an unprecedented staffing crisis. Patient care demand peaks with patient volume surges due to seasonal illnesses, travel-related injuries, and the exacerbation of chronic conditions. Additionally, many healthcare professionals take time off during the holidays to spend time with their loved ones, travel, or get some much-deserved rest. The result can be severe staff shortages that make it difficult to uphold the highest quality of patient care standards.

To effectively navigate this period, healthcare organizations must implement strategic workforce management practices to ensure adequate staffing levels while avoiding overburdening their full-time staff. From forecasting and planning to seeking external support, there are ways organizations can ensure patient care is never compromised, regardless of demand fluctuations and staff shortages.

Forecast Patient Demand and Scheduling Needs

By analyzing historical data, considering factors such as seasonal trends, holiday travel behaviors, local disease outbreaks, and staff absences, healthcare organizations can accurately forecast staffing needs. This allows for timely adjustments and optimal resource allocation to ensure comprehensive coverage during peak periods.

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This proactive approach enables healthcare organizations to account for staff absences, adjusting the staffing plan accordingly to maintain adequate coverage, quality care, and operational efficiency throughout the holiday season.

Utilize Flexible Scheduling

While flexible staffing arrangements may already be in place, the holiday season emphasizes their importance in meeting patient care needs. This entails offering temporary shifts, extending work hours, providing on-call opportunities, and introducing digital platforms for staff to easily pick up shifts on demand.

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Flexible scheduling proves particularly advantageous for healthcare organizations experiencing substantial variations in patient volume throughout the year. By adjusting staffing schedules to align with fluctuations in patient demand and considering staff preferences, healthcare organizations optimize resource utilization and decrease the reliance on costly overtime. This approach also puts control into the hands of employees, contributing to a more satisfied and engaged workforce.

Implement Cross-Training Programs

Cross-training in healthcare is about broadening employees’ competencies to enhance their capabilities. Just as athletes cross-train to strengthen the overall team, healthcare professionals can diversify their skills, contributing to a stronger and more adaptable workforce.

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During staffing shortages among administrative personnel, trained nurses can handle admissions, alleviating the workload on a strained administrative team. Similarly, administrative staff with foundational clinical training can assist with patient care tasks like passing water to patients, changing linen bags, and restocking supplies— allowing clinical staff to focus on critical patient needs.

Investing in cross-training programs equips healthcare professionals to perform diverse tasks safely and efficiently. These programs can cover both clinical and non-clinical aspects, providing staff with a broader skill set. Ultimately, this leads to enhanced job satisfaction, optimal staffing levels, and ensures uninterrupted patient care and operational efficiency throughout the holiday season.

Foster Effective Collaboration

During holiday surges, healthcare organizations should encourage collaboration among different departments and specialties to ensure seamless coordination of care and that patients receive the appropriate attention from qualified professionals, even when some staff are unavailable.

This can be achieved through regular communication channels, such as daily huddles or interdepartmental meetings. Additionally, healthcare organizations can implement collaborative care models that involve healthcare professionals from different disciplines working together to provide comprehensive patient care, reducing reliance on specific individuals and ensuring continuity of care.

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By nurturing this collaborative environment through effective communication and embracing collaborative care models, healthcare providers sustain consistent and attentive patient care during holiday surges and staff absences. This ensures that patients receive the quality care they need, regardless of staffing challenges.

Leverage Technology

Technology can play a significant role in optimizing healthcare staffing. Workforce management software, patient tracking systems, and real-time communication tools can provide valuable insights into staffing needs, facilitate task allocation, and improve overall efficiency.

Workforce management software can track employee availability, skills, certifications, and time off preferences. This allows managers to quickly identify and deploy qualified staff when needed most.

Similarly, patient tracking systems provide real-time insights into patient flow and urgency levels. If there’s a sudden influx of patients, the system prompts adjustments to prevent delays or disruptions in service.

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By using technology to track, prompt, and inform operations, healthcare facilities improve their ability to respond swiftly to changing demands. This leads to greater efficiency, improved responsiveness to patient care needs, and an overall enhancement in the quality of care delivered.

Recognize and Reward Employee Contributions

The holiday season can be a particularly demanding time for healthcare professionals, who often work extended hours and face increased pressure while many of their colleagues are off. Healthcare organizations should recognize and reward their dedication and contributions to boost morale, enhance job satisfaction, and encourage continued commitment to providing high-quality patient care often— especially during challenging times.

Similarly, patient tracking systems provide real-time insights into patient flow and urgency levels. If there’s a sudden influx of patients, the system prompts adjustments to prevent delays or disruptions in service.

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This recognition can take various forms, such as verbal praise, written commendations, financial incentives, non-monetary rewards like gifts or time off, or special holiday bonuses. By acknowledging the hard work and dedication of their employees, especially during the holidays when many are making sacrifices to be there for their patients, healthcare organizations can foster a positive and supportive work environment that contributes to improved patient care outcomes.

Make the Most of Partnerships with Healthcare Staffing Companies

The holiday season amplifies the challenge of maintaining optimal staffing levels within healthcare organizations. It’s during this time that leaning on existing staffing partners, or seeking out partnerships with staffing agencies, becomes invaluable. These relationships offer an ideal solution for swiftly securing additional qualified professionals to fill gaps in staffing.

Healthcare staffing companies specialize in promptly providing temporary healthcare experts tailored to the specific needs of organizations, enabling a flexible staffing approach that adapts to changing patient volumes. This ensures uninterrupted care delivery and allows full-time staff to maintain quality service and avoid burning out during the busiest time of the year.

 

By proactively anticipating staffing needs, fostering a flexible and collaborative work environment, and leveraging technology to streamline operations, healthcare organizations can effectively manage their workforce and maintain consistent patient care throughout the holiday season. This proactive approach ensures that employees remain engaged and motivated, and that patients continue to receive the high-quality care they deserve, even during the busiest times of the year.

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Our Sources

  1. Emergency Hospital Systems: “Why Emergency Rooms Are More Crowded During The Holidays”
  2. PloS One: “Clinical complexity and hospital admissions in the December holiday period”
  3. Cleveland Clinic: “Flexible Scheduling Helps Attract and Retain Nurses.”
  4. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Creating Short-Term Volume Flexibility in Healthcare Capacity Management”
  5. Canadian Pharmacists Journal/Revue des pharmaciens du Canada: “Interprofessional Collaboration in Health Care.”
  6. American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN): “Study: Nurse Work Environment Affects Patient Outcomes.”
  7. PressGaney: “Why employee engagement matters for optimal healthcare outcomes.”

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