As a software vendor to hundreds of healthcare staffing companies, HealthcareSource is in a unique position to receive a broad range of feedback about how COVID-19 is impacting the industry. Here are two issues our clients have encountered and strategies your agency or health system can implement to alleviate their effects.
Caregiver Reluctance to Work
Reluctance has taken two forms since COVID-19: Forgoing extra shifts and forgoing new facilities.
Like many full-time healthcare employees, temporary workers are often also caregivers to family and friends who are at high risk for contracting COVID. To reduce their exposure, many have made an affirmative decision to forgo working extra shifts – not out of concern for their safety, but the safety of their loved ones to whom they return home to each day.
Caregivers cite two common concerns that cause them to forgo working at new facilities. First, during times of uncertainty, it is human nature to seek out the familiar. Caregivers who have previous experience working at a particular facility are more likely to know the staff, managers, policies and procedures, and that knowledge instills confidence. Without it, that confidence quickly crumbles.
Second, regulatory requirements vary from facility-to-facility, placing a burden on both contingent workers and their agencies to ensure proper credentialing, testing and in-services are in place. Working at a familiar facility does not present such demands, as it can be assumed that if the worker previously met the regulatory requirements, they still will.
Changing and Varied Staffing Requirements
Facilities across the continuum of care have not adopted consistent policies regarding the utilization of contingent staff during the pandemic. Some facilities are perfectly fine using in-services developed by an agency to educate contingent workers on the latest precautions related to COVID-19; others insist that they utilize their facilities’ in-service materials. To contingent workers, both sets of material convey similar information and are therefore viewed as a repetitive burden.
Some facilities are instituting requirements that a caregiver cannot work in one facility if they worked in another facility within a given timeframe. While enacted as a risk management precaution to control the spread of the virus across facilities, it adds another level of complexity to the placement process.
In August, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released updated COVID-19 testing guidelines that required long-term care facilities to test residents and facility staff, including contingent staff, for COVID-19 based on various parameters set forth by the HHS Secretary.
In keeping with current CDC recommendations, one such parameter advises that staff who have recovered from COVID-19 and are asymptomatic do not need to be retested for COVID-19 within three months after symptom onset. Another parameter necessitates that when the county where the facility dwells has a positivity rate greater than 10%, staff must get tested a least twice a week.
Although these guidelines are designed to keep residents and staff safe from infection, they also place additional burdens on contingent staff who will need to follow sometimes conflicting protocols for each facility they work at.
How Agencies and Hospitals Can Work Together to Overcome These Common Challenges
It’s incumbent upon both parties to resolve the current staffing issues because failure to do so will result in higher staffing ratios, negatively impacting their ability to provide high-quality care. Here are four tips on how to overcome these challenges:
- Collaborate on a solution that allows caregivers to shower and change clothing at the end of a shift. Staff will feel more secure in knowing that they will not bring home viral loads. If possible, provide all caregivers facility-owned scrubs that can be left behind at the end of a shift for cleaning and sanitizing. This was standard practice in the U.S. Air Force hospital where I worked in the early ’80s. It was a nice perk not having to clean your own scrubs, and you left all the biological material where it belongs.
- As part of your caregivers’ schedules, provide their current compliance status to work upcoming shifts. Is the test they passed last week adequate assurance for the facilities where they are expected to work next week? If not, by when will they need to provide a new result? Agencies can efficiently disseminate compliance information via mobile scheduling solutions so they can place talent efficiently without opening themselves up to risk.
- Automate requirements as much as possible so caregivers don’t show up for a shift and get turned away for a requirements issue that could have easily been avoided. Don’t rely on human memory or paper checklists, either. Requirements are changing too often for paper-based systems to be consistently accurate.
- Encourage area facilities to collaborate on a set of standard requirements to ease the repetitive burdens on temporary workers. While agencies are doing their best to encourage and incentivize caregivers to complete these repetitive tasks, this will become more difficult to overcome as time passes and caregivers grow increasingly fatigued by paperwork.
These are just a few suggestions we’ve seen healthcare facilities successfully implement to ease contingent caregivers’ burden during the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, I’d like to hear about your experiences!
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