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Staffing Shortage Solutions That Aren't Just a Quick-Fix

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   November 16, 2021

Michael Abrams, MA, managing partner at Numerof & Associates, offers his take on staffing shortage trends and how to solve them.

It seems that the whole world is currently short-staffed, and the healthcare industry is no different.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals and health systems struggled with burnout among nurses and physicians, talent pools, and keeping up with staffing demands.

Following over 18-months of the pandemic, organizations are facing even more dire circumstances when it comes to juggling staff and patients.

Michael Abrams, MA, managing partner at Numerof & Associates, recently spoke with HealthLeaders to offer his take on the healthcare staffing shortage trends and how to solve them.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

HealthLeaders: What staffing shortage trends are you currently seeing play out in hospitals and health systems?

Michael Abrams: What struck me is that the news is full of actions that various hospitals and systems are taking to address the shortages that they're experiencing. There are fixes that are touted as innovations; these are superficial fixes that are being billed as innovations, but they're a little more than Band-Aids. I've been around in the consulting business for a long time, and we've had crises like this, in the 80s, the 90s, and the 2000s, and they all had the same underlying issue, and that is the industrialization of patient care.

What has been happening is that hospitals, particularly as they feel more and more financially squeezed, are finding ways to stretch available nursing resources to cover more patients in less time, so that the patient experience is more transactional for both patients and nurses. This is not only a disservice to patients, but it minimizes the emotional payoff that was the reason that most nurses joined the profession in the first place.

When you take that ongoing trend, then you add that administrators are fining, and firing, and shaming the same frontline healthcare workers, that they called heroes a few months back, over an arbitrary vaccinate mandate, it's no wonder that many nurses and other frontline workers have lost any sense of loyalty to the institution that employs them.

The fact that these crises reoccur almost predictively, the people who are charged with running organizations in the industry, simply haven't learned anything from past, so-called crises.

I'm putting responsibility for the current nursing and frontline healthcare worker shortage at the feet of most administrators across the industry who continue to operate the same way that this has been done for the last 30 years.

HL: What other long-term changes need to be made?

Abrams: Hospital management needs to double down on efforts to engage the workforce and end efforts to shame the same staff they were praising just a few months ago. They need to commit to a new business model that is patient-centered, longitudinal, and cross-continuum, taking on a payment model that allows them to de-emphasize doing what it takes to get paid for every little service, and incentivizes everybody to do what's right for the patient.

The reason that so many hospitals are slicing and dicing the patient experience in order to make their overhead dollar stretch a little further, is because they don't have accountability for outcomes. If people could rate hospitals and their healthcare experience the way they rate restaurants on Yelp, I think it would change a lot. If what hospitals got paid was linked to the quality of the experience that people had when they went there, I think that would create some real change in terms of how they allocate that.

HL: So, it's all about finding that balance between finding that positive experience for both employees patients?

Abrams: Yes, and how we respond to the things that matter to them.

The fundamental thing is that other business organizations have figured it out. What needs to be done to deal with this is still largely a mystery to many healthcare delivery organizations, because they just haven't taken the time and haven't made the effort to really understand what matters. 

Related: COVID-19 Fears and Frustration Add to Recruiting Challenges for Hospitals

Melanie Blackman is the strategy editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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