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June 15, 2022

How 3 health systems are navigating the workforce crisis

Daily Briefing

    As the health care industry struggles with growing workforce shortages, three health systems share the innovative ways they are recruiting and retaining their workers, Carol Davis writes for HealthLeaders Media.

    How to fix the clinician workforce. (Hint: 'It won't be cheap.')

    The US is facing a shortage of health care workers

    Since the beginning of the pandemic, burnout and mental health challenges have added to critical staffing shortages in the health care industry. In fact, a 2021 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post found that nearly 30% of health care workers are considering leaving their jobs. 

    If these shortages do not abate, the health care industry will experience a shortage of up to 3.2 million workers by 2026, according to an analysis of EMSI data. In addition, the United States is expected to face a shortage of 124,000 physicians by 2033, and at least 200,000 new nurses will be needed every year to meeting increased demand, in part due to an aging patient population.

    "The challenge to stem workforce shortages is undoubtedly an uphill climb," Davis writes, but three health systems have found ways to meet the challenge while supporting their workers.

    1. Children's Hospital Colorado's workforce pipeline

    In 1999, Children's Hospital Colorado launched the Medical Career Collaborative (MC²), a two-year program that gives high school students hands-on training in a variety of roles with workshops, field trips, and a paid internship.

    According to Stacey Whiteside, the hospital's director of experience and engagement who leads MC², at least 96% of students enrolled in the MC² program complete it, and "somewhere north of 70%" end up pursuing a career in health care, including clinical care, public health, psychology, mental health counseling, or other medical or social work.

    Since the initiative began, Children's Colorado has filled at least 80 health care roles at the organization and other hospitals. Whiteside said the program continues to help with the hospital's workforce challenges.

    "We have close to 20 graduates who have gone on and gotten their medical degrees, but this past August, we had our first MC² grad return to Children's Colorado and get hired as a pediatric emergency physician in an attending role in our emergency department," Whiteside said. 

    "Her story is indicative of the long-term plan this program has in place," she added. "She grew up literally around the corner, went to a high school that is about two miles from Children's Colorado on the Anschutz campus, and now she's back serving in this community. It's pretty phenomenal."

    According to Whiteside, the MC² program is "a lot of work, a lot of energy, and a tremendous amount of logistics," but "the return on the investment is starting to be pretty wonderful as we see nurses and now doctors, physician's assistants, lab scientists, radiology, and social workers starting to fill in our workforce, which was the original mission of the program. We're delivering on that now."

    2. Sanford Health's AI scheduling tool

    Sanford Health used to determine its staffing needs manually, using patient statistics from the year prior to create nurse schedules. However, Erica DeBoer, Sanford's CNO, said these scheduling systems were "archaic," required too much time and effort, and only accurate to the health system's needs around 60% of the time.

    Now, Sanford has implemented its own artificial intelligence (AI) predictive analytics tool called LAMP (Leveraging Analytics to Mobilize our workforce and Prepare), which analyzes workplace activity (admissions, transfers, and discharge information) to create schedules up to 18 months in advance. According to DeBoer, the AI tool has helped increase the accuracy of the health system's schedules to almost 90%.

    "We had an opportunity to use predictive analytics to try to anticipate what our census is going to be and then based on that census, on a med-surg unit, or an OB unit, an adult ICU, or a pediatric ICU, we could start understanding what our staffing needs were going to be and look ahead at least four weeks and then anticipate even longer than that, as we think about workforce shortages of the future," DeBoer said.

    In addition, the tool is expected to increase workplace satisfaction among nurses and nurse managers, which will in turn increase employee retention, lead to better performance, and improve patient satisfaction.

    "Specifically, it will help our managers be more present with our employees and with our patients," DeBoer said. "It takes some of that workload away because it automates it and there's not that worry that they have to be calling [nurses into work] and reacting to a specific patient need."

    Overall, Sanford is "trying to leverage technology as much as possible to automate workflows that probably don't add value, or that can take some of the load off that frontline nursing team, and get them back to the passionate work that they do every day with our patients," DeBoer said.

    3. IU Health's strong succession planning

    At Indiana University (IU) Health, strong succession planning, which identifies and develops potential candidates to move into different roles, has helped the organization ensure its leadership roles are quickly and seamlessly filled. 

    For example, when a chief nursing executive at IU health moved into a COO role, the CNO from the health system's largest hospital quickly filled her previous position—a move that was made possible because of a solid succession plan.

    "There was development and intentionality about having him on her [succession] plan," said Christina Chapman, IU Health's VP and chief learning officer. "We were able to execute that and have a ready-now successor when she moved on."

    According to Chapman, some of the benefits of succession planning include higher retention, lower hiring costs, and organizational stability.

    "People want to know that they have a path forward," she said. "As much as people want to grow and develop, it helps with retention in today's world. That's important to keep our talent." Currently, around two-thirds of IU Health's leadership roles are going to internal promotions, which have largely been due to succession planning.

    Ultimately, a succession plan requires both work and intentionality to be successful, Chapman said. "You can't just put a name in a box and say, 'This person could be a successor,'" she said. "It has to be something actively worked on." (Davis, HealthLeaders Media, 6/13)

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