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Mitigating Healthcare Labor Shortages, Even Before They Happen, with Tim Barger

5 minutes

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted healthcare organizations nationwide to think more strategically about workforce strategies, including interim staffing solutions. A contingent workforce strategy can help organizations navigate these labor challenges with greater ease and minimal operational disruption.


Tim Barger is Senior Vice President of Interim Staffing Solutions with Chartis Clinical Quality Solutions, formerly known as The Greeley Company. He leads the firm’s Interim Staffing Solutions division that fills temporarily vacant CMO, director, medical staff services, and compliance positions with experienced professionals. Tim has more than 25 years of staffing and recruiting industry leadership, talent management, and executive management experience.


Chartis: What staffing challenges do today’s healthcare organizations face? 

Barger:
Many of today’s healthcare organizations struggle with staffing shortages across the board. Everyone talks about nursing and physician shortages. But the staffing crisis  extends to many non-clinical roles, such as credentialing coordinators, provider enrollment specialists, directors of credentialing, quality/infection control specialists, revenue cycle management staff, information technology specialists, and others. 

Chartis: What’s driving the current labor shortage challenges?

Barger:
The healthcare industry hasn’t been immune to the Great Resignation. If hospitals don’t offer perks like flexible schedules or telecommuting, people often seek a job at an organization that does provide these benefits. Vaccine mandates are another factor driving decisions among the healthcare workforce. Some individuals have been willing to switch employers if it means they aren’t required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

In addition, some people have left the healthcare industry entirely. They’ve chosen to work in another industry that pays more and demands less. There’s also an aging population of healthcare workers. People are getting closer to retirement, and many have decided to retire early. There aren’t the same number of people entering the workforce, and those that are entering it don’t have the same skill level. 

This creates a supply and demand imbalance that’s hard to manage. 

Chartis: What is the immediate impact of staffing shortages on today’s healthcare organizations?

Barger:
In the short-term, workforce limitations cause productivity loss. This productivity loss subsequently affects revenue. Consider a hospital that doesn’t have enough credentialing specialists. As a result, it takes 120 days to close a file and credential a doctor. That’s a long time during which that provider cannot see patients waiting for care. In turn, that means lost revenue, diminished access to care, and potentially poorer quality and outcomes. Meanwhile, the staff who remain are under more pressure–ultimately driving further staffing challenges. 

Similarly, consider a hospital that doesn’t have enough revenue cycle staff. Even as providers are seeing patients, the volume of discharged not final billed (DNFB) accounts continues to increase, causing cashflow delays and other problems. It’s a domino effect on revenue, access to care, and even health outcomes.

Chartis: What about the long-term impact of staffing shortages?

Barger:
When healthcare organizations can’t weather staffing shortages with ease, some of them—particularly small, rural hospitals—may end up closing their doors. These closures ultimately perpetuate the health inequities we see today in underserved communities. That’s why having a contingency plan is so important. Insufficient staff can affect individual patients and entire communities. 

Chartis: You mentioned having a contingency plan for staffing. Can you elaborate on its importance?

Barger:
Healthcare organizations need to make workforce contingency planning part of their overall business strategy. A contingency plan means you leverage individuals, when needed, to support overall production. You can double your team for 6 months, for example, to get you to a place where you’re comfortable. Contingency plans help organizations navigate inevitable fluctuations in hiring needs or big swings in the economy that cause layoffs or massive hiring. 

Contingency plans are only one piece of the puzzle, though. Having a contingency plan doesn’t absolve organizations from making efforts to retain existing staff. Health systems, hospitals, and medical practices need to figure out what’s most valuable to employees and create an environment and benefits package that meets their needs.

Chartis: Do most healthcare organizations have a labor contingency plan in place?

Barger:
Unfortunately, no. Nobody wants to believe labor shortages will hit their organization, and most don’t even think about it until it becomes a reality. Then they end up scrambling and ultimately paying more for immediate help. It’s ultimately a higher cost of doing business than if it was planned more strategically. 

Chartis: What advice can you provide to help healthcare organizations avoid the “scramble”?

Barger:
Create a long-term contingent workforce strategy. Assume that you’re always going to need some level of interim staffing—especially in certain departments that tend to experience volume fluctuations more so than others. 

What work trends do you see, and can you immediately leverage interim staff as needed? With this approach, it’s less of a crisis response, and the funding is already available to pay for those individuals.

Chartis: Any closing thoughts in terms of how to ensure healthcare organizations can ensure a sustainable workforce moving forward? 

Barger:
Organizations need to leverage training and development to build talent internally. There will always be reactive opportunities and a range of options to meet your needs in the moment. Yet, in our experience, those clients with whom we proactively create a staffing partnership are better able to develop the contingency plans they need. That means they can anticipate and mitigate against operational disruptions in a timely manner.

Find a partner before staffing needs arise so that you have plenty of time to ask questions, do your due diligence, and secure contracts before you’re in a crunch. Organizations will always have reactive opportunities. However, those opportunities will fit within the larger contingency plan, thereby mitigating operational disruptions, excessive costs, and the associated impacts on patient care.


© 2022 Chartis Clinical Quality Solutions. All rights reserved. This content draws on the research and experience of Chartis consultants and other sources. It is for general information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors. It does not constitute legal advice.

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