With COVID-19 pressures and fears finally taking a back seat, many hoped that 2022 would bring relief and a fresh start to the healthcare industry. That is not what happened. Last year has been one of the hardest for healthcare. Finances, staffing shortages, increased workloads, new regulations, and telehealth have all posed new challenges for the industry to overcome. These challenges must be faced head on and quickly; in our ever-evolving age of information, things seem to change and shift at the speed of light.
2022 was a financially difficult one for everyone, including the healthcare industry. With inflation hitting record highs, the cost of everything has increased. At a time when things are already so difficult, this has been especially hard on facilities that are trying to keep healthcare affordable for patients. According to one study, 2022 has been one of the worst financial years on record for hospitals with, “the significant weight of high expenses outpacing revenues, particularly when it comes to the cost of labor. Additionally, hospitals are turning to external sources for services like IT and human resources support, instead of keeping them in house at a lower cost. Finally, the high cost of materials due to inflation has not abated.”
While facilities can do nothing about inflation and some of the other global crises causing these financial pressures, they are not without recourse. Aside from the sorts of cuts that can only be decided at the top of each facility, much can be done by the rank and file at the front lines of this healthcare crisis. Focusing on things like instructions for use (IFUs) can help prevent waste and misuse of expensive products and devices. Regular and intensive staff training is another tool that can be used to bring down costs. Taking extra caution to prevent the spread of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) is another great way to help keep costs low.
2. Staffing Shortages
Not only has it been hard for some facilities to keep the lights on, but they have also been having trouble finding and keeping quality staff members. In an open letter to the US House of Representatives in March, the American Hospital Association (AHA) explained, “With 23% of hospitals reporting a critical staffing shortage to the government, hospitals have seen a decrease of nearly 105,000 employees since February 2020.” Reasons behind these shortages are varied and even controversial: inflated pay for contract and travel nurses, aging baby boomers, vaccine mandates, burnout, and low pay are just a few of the possible puzzle pieces that may help explain the shortage.
Whatever the reasons, there are things healthcare facilities can do to help retain more of their hard working staff. On the one hand, supporting the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of the staff already in place is a huge step in the right direction. If staff members are feeling stretched too thin and overwhelmed, it is only a matter of time until they seek employment elsewhere. Providing employees with fair or even generous pay will help them to withstand the heavy days and hard circumstances they encounter regularly. Allowing for more flexible scheduling will also be a big draw for many who seek jobs that can fit into their already busy lives. Focusing on ways your facility can serve employees is a great way to show employees that they matter and are appreciated.
3. Increased Workload
Because of the financial situation and staffing shortages being faced, the workload of those remaining in the healthcare industry has become nearly unbearable (further inflating the two previous factors). One way in which this has been visible has been in emergency departments. One study explains, “While emergency department visits and operating room minutes increased slightly, hospitals struggled to discharge patients due to internal staffing shortages and shortages at post-acute facilities.” Fewer workers are having to manage more work and as the staffing situation worsens, so does the work left for the team members who have continued in the fight.
This is, unfortunately, not a situation that can be easily remedied unless the first two issues are corrected. The only way to decrease workloads is to stop doing things your facility does not need to do, outsource whatever can be outsourced, and take an all-hands-on-deck approach to the duties remaining. Cross training employees so that everyone can help contribute if one team member is overwhelmed or is out helps lift some of the burden resting on each person’s shoulders. The best thing that can be done is to show employees that they are seen and they are appreciated. Nothing encourages the next step forward quite like a kind word.
These days, the healthcare industry is one of the hardest to work in. Despite all the hardships, it is still one of the most important and rewarding industries to work in. Whatever the daily challenges are, in the end, people who were sick are made well and those who needed help can receive care. There are few things in the world as rewarding and important as being a part of that.