The crisis in healthcare staffing

COVID-19 didn’t create the healthcare staffing shortage, but the impact is worsened because of it.

COVID-19 is rightly blamed for many ills in the world today. The global pandemic has caused illness and death, it’s disrupted global economies, it’s impacted schooling and social networks. The introduction of new variants like Omicron creates more confusion and spikes healthcare needs just as we think we have some measure of control over the virus. And all of this has compounded a staffing shortage of healthcare workers at a time when we need them more than ever.

COVID-19 didn’t create the healthcare staffing shortage, but the impact is worsened because of it. As the CEO of a large national healthcare staffing company, I can tell you that our clients were experiencing the impact of the shortage well before any of us knew what COVID-19 19 was. But to be sure, COVID-19 has taken a tough situation and made it worse. This is true for hospitals needing more help at the bedside, and it’s true for physicians who need LPNs and other staffers to keep their offices running efficiently.

And right now, we’re seeing a massive problem getting staff in medical offices. There’s a dearth of case managers, payments/medical billing in addition to nursing. Doctors are finding it more challenging than ever to run their businesses.

According to Lonnie T. Klein, MD FACS, a urologist with a large practice in Tampa FL and a colleague of mine, “Staffing has never been a bigger problem than it is today. In fact, we’re currently running at about a 25% deficit at a time when our office is also busier than ever. We have a backlog of patients who stayed away during the worst of COVID-19 and are now coming in in record numbers for checkups, procedures and other general healthcare maintenance.”

A few of the trends we’re seeing that contribute to this medical staffing shortage include the retirement of baby boomer nurses, emotional strain and PTSD among healthcare workers after 18 months of treating COVID-19 patients, and massive amounts of stored paid time off and a desire of staff workers to work from home which isn’t necessarily a fit for medical offices. Anyone in the medical industry reading this article will have felt the pain of this confluence of factors.

This staffing shortage is also leading to competition between practitioners and hospitals as each vie to for needed healthcare and related staff.

When COVID-19 cases were identified in the United States in early 2020, our brands within the Ingenovis Health company were called upon to quickly deploy ICU and ER nurses where they were most desperately needed. Our valued nurses were among the first responders to treat COVID-19 patients at the startling outbreaks in Northern California, the Seattle region, and New York City during those first few weeks.

The call to action for us was fairly predictable because when patient admissions spike expectedly or unexpectedly, our brands Fastaff Travel Nursing and trustaff are often among the first called. When patient admissions spikes rapidly in the case of pandemics or other urgent and crucial situations, hospitals can suffer crippling staffing shortages and loss of revenue for every day that passes that they are not adequately staffed, and they use travel nurses and other contingent healthcare workers to keep productivity as close to 100% as possible.

Hospitals tend to staff toward 60-70% capacity and then flex up during time of increased patient census, and these two brands have deep databases of experienced nurses who can fill the temporary needs.

While we staff urgent requests on a weekly basis at Ingenovis Health, we also staff for predictable and cyclical fluctuations in the healthcare calendar. So as the snowbirds travel south, or flu or labor and delivery season arrive, or summer with increased visits to the ER, we can plan ahead for a rush of travel nurse requests in anticipated circumstances.

With the increased demands on staffing due to COVID-19, I’ve come to better understand and appreciate the struggle that providers face as they endeavor to provide comprehensive healthcare in difficult times.

As Dr. Klein has shared with me, “When we’re down in staff, that means patients have to wait longer for healthcare.” And that’s an outcome none of us want or can afford.

Whether you are in a small clinic or a large hospital, everyone needs to be prepared to cover those debilitating gaps, and weaving in flexible contingent labor as part of the overall solution is a proven solution for our clients. By securing a contingent provider as soon as possible, physicians and hospitals can prepare ahead of time to maintain a workforce solution that can flex with the demands and census of their businesses.

To play our part and expand capabilities nationwide, we look to acquisitions to grow our provider base of experienced clinicians. We recently acquired HealthCare Support, a national recruitment firm providing clinical and non-clinical staffing solutions. We felt it was critically important to provide a complete solution to healthcare offices and organizations, in addition to the nurses and allied professionals that our brands have been staffing nationwide for over 30 years.

The market is desperate for these clinical and non-clinical professionals, and demand is driving salaries and incentive compensation higher than we’ve ever seen among healthcare workers. Few hospitals or medical offices can afford to squeeze margins even tighter to accommodate this permanently, and have sought the short-term assignment lengths offered by the travel nursing model.

Ultimately, while the cost of contingent labor is higher on an hourly basis, our clients find that the flexibility and financial benefits of staffing up only when you need to and not carrying excess full-time employees, yields a positive net effect.

Further, the opportunity cost of not being staffed sufficiently leads to lost income for practices, at a time when doctors need greater flexibility in pricing for services because of increased costs in providing care.

As mentioned, though COVID-19 didn’t cause the problems we’re facing today, the strain on the nation’s workforce has made the shortage worse. And all signs indicate that even an abatement of the COVID-19 effect, however far off it may seem, will not materially change the imbalance caused by the provider gap. We need more solutions to the staffing shortages we’re facing, and we need to quickly connect valuable and experienced providers with open opportunities.

My colleagues and I are gratified to be in the business of getting help where it is most needed and improving outcomes for doctors, hospitals and ultimately the patients they serve.

Bart Valdez was appointed as the first Chief Executive Officer of Ingenovis Health in June 2021 shortly after the formation of the company upon the merger of established healthcare brands trustaff, Fastaff Travel Nursing, U.S. Nursing Corporation and CardioSolution, and technology innovator Stella Ai. He leads Ingenovis as it maintains and builds on its position as a leading healthcare staffing provider, expanding reach and care capabilities nationwide through growth of its current brand portfolio and through future acquisitions.

Bringing over 25 years of experience in the human capital and healthcare management sector, Valdez previously held executive leadership roles with Syneos Health, INC Research, Ceridian, and First Advantage. He most recently served as President and CEO of Fastaff and U.S. Nursing from 2019 until his appointment as Chairman in February 2021, having doubled the size of the business during this period. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Valdez successfully led Fastaff and U.S. Nursing through swift operational initiatives and investments that enabled the companies to quickly and effectively fulfill an unprecedented surge in demand for experienced nurses in more than 500 facilities across 45 states.