When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, healthcare workers across the United States were rightfully celebrated as heroes. Months later, stressful shifts, extended hours and fluctuating safety protocols have ravaged the workforce. As one global health crisis drags on, the industry is now facing a new threat: a growing healthcare staffing crisis. 

The State of the Healthcare Workforce

There is no shortage of alarming statistics to point to regarding the current state of the healthcare workforce. Since February 2020, employment in healthcare is down a total of 450,000 jobs. The disappearing workforce can be attributed to several developments, including layoffs, retirement and resignations due to burnout. While the amount of skilled talent that has stepped away from the workforce is concerning, there could be even more poised to leave. In fact, one survey found that up to 31 percent of the remaining healthcare workers have considered leaving their employer. This presents a daunting challenge for the industry now and in the future. Nurses in particular illustrate this story in sharp detail. According to Dr. Ernest Grant, President of the American Nurses Association, the nation will need an additional 1.2 million nurses by next year to meet the growing demand for their services and to replace those leaving.

At the same time, total labor expenses have increased 14.8% when compared to October 2019. How can this be possible when staffing levels have dipped so drastically? As the labor market tightens amidst the Great Resignation, higher salaries are needed to retain existing employees and attract top talent. Healthcare employers are feeling the pinch of desperately needing talent to fill critical positions, while feeling the sting in their bottom line. 

The Effects of Sustained Talent Shortages

At first, the effects of talent shortages may not be obvious from the outside looking in. Over time, cracks in the foundation begin to form. Recent reporting from Becker’s Hospital Review notes that the growing labor crisis in healthcare may be having an effect on patient safety and quality of care, but the lag on data reporting in this area leaves this an open question for the time being.

One area that has not lagged behind in reporting is the amount of stress being placed upon those who remain on the frontlines. Levels of stress-related conditions, such as workplace burnout, are spiking across the healthcare industry as teams are pushed to the brink of exhaustion. As the fight against COVID-19 continues, healthcare teams will also need to prepare for an influx of patients who have delayed long needed services and procedures during the darkest days of the pandemic. 

Building Back the Healthcare Talent Pipeline

While there are no easy answers to the challenges facing the healthcare industry today, there are steps that can be taken to take the press off of existing employees and replenish the talent pipeline. Potential solutions include utilizing temporary employment options, investing in technology and expanding training programs.

  • Temporary Employment Options: Hiring a contingent or temporary workforce is one way for healthcare organizations to fill gaps on teams quickly and efficiently. One report published by Premier shows the use of this type of labor up over 130 percent when compared to pre-pandemic numbers. As more workers transition into new industries during The Great Resignation, staffing agencies provide an entry point for talent eager to take on new opportunities. Partnering with such an organization can provide access to untapped talent pipelines. 
  • Investing in Technology: Healthcare, like all industries, finds itself more and more reliant on technology. While investment in areas such as virtual and telehealth, automation and other health tech tools may lead to sticker shock initially, the improvements in efficiency will pay dividends in the long term. 
  • Expanded Training Programs: With a wave of new talent and technology entering the healthcare space, there needs to be an increased focus on proper training for all roles. Organizations that find creative ways to upskill and reskill their workforce will benefit from more sustainable retention numbers. 

When faced with unprecedented challenges, the healthcare industry has time and time again met the moment with innovative solutions. This time, the threat comes not from a virus, but from a staffing shortage that has spread rapidly due to new and pre-existing workforce conditions. 

Is your team searching for workforce solutions to enable you to build great healthcare teams on the road to recovery? Click here to learn more about Medix’s healthcare staffing solutions and recruitment services.