Hospitals paying $24 billion more for labor during the COVID-19 pandemic

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/hospitals-paying-24-billion-more-labor-during-covid-19-pandemic

Clinical labor costs are up by an average of 8% per patient day, translating to $17 million in additional annual labor expenses.

As the delta variant pushes COVID-19 caseloads to all-time highs, hospitals and health systems across the country are paying $24 billion more per year for qualified clinical labor than they did pre-pandemic, according to a new PINC AI analysis from Premier.

Clinical labor costs are up by an average of 8% per patient day when compared to a pre-pandemic baseline period in 2019. For the average 500-bed facility, this translates to $17 million in additional annual labor expenses since the beginning of the public health emergency.

The data also shows that overtime hours are up 52% as of September. At the same time, the use of agency and temporary labor is up 132% for full-time and 131% for part-time workers. The use of contingency labor – positions created to complete a temporary project or work function – is up nearly 126%.

Overtime and the use of agency staff are the most expensive labor choices for hospitals – usually adding 50% or more to a typical employee’s hourly rate, Premier found.

And hospital workers aren’t just putting in more hours – they’re also working harder. The analysis shows that productivity, measured in worked hours per unit of departmental volume, increased by an average of 7% to 14% year-over-year across the intensive care, nursing and emergency department units, highlighting the significance of the increases in cost-per-hour.

Another complicating factor is that hospital employees are more exposed to COVID-19 than many other workers, with quarantines and recoveries requiring the use of sick time. The data shows that use of sick time, particularly among full-time employees (FTEs) in the intensive care unit, is up 50% for full-time clinical staff and more than 60% for part-time employees when compared with the pre-pandemic baseline.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

The combined stressors of working more hours while under the constant threat of coronavirus exposure are pushing many hospital workers to the breaking point. In fact, the data shows clinical staff turnover is reaching record highs in key departments like emergency, ICU and nursing. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the annual rate of turnover across these departments has increased from 18% to 30%. This means nearly one-third of all employees in these departments are now turning over each year, which is almost double the rate from two years ago.

This is a number that could increase as new vaccination mandates take effect. Already, one Midwestern system reported a loss of 125 employees who chose not to be vaccinated, while a New York facility reported another 90 resignations. Overall, staffing agencies are predicting up to a 5% resignation rate once vaccine mandates kick in. 

While a minority of the overall workforce, losses of even a few employees during times of extreme stress can have a ripple effect on hospital operations and costs.

THE LARGER TREND

According to the American Hospital Association, hospitals nationwide will lose an estimated $54 billion in net income over the course of the year, even taking into account the $176 billion in federal CARES Act funding from last year. Added staffing costs were not addressed as part of CARES and are further eating into hospital finances. 

As a result, some are now predicting that more than half of all hospitals will have negative margins by the end of 2021 – a trend that could be dire for some community hospitals. 

Prior to the pandemic, about one quarter of hospitals had negative margins, the Kaufman Hall data showed. At the beginning of 2021, after almost a year of COVID-19, half of hospitals had negative margins.

Meanwhile, the most potentially disruptive forces facing hospitals and health systems in the next three years are provider burnout, disengagement and the resulting shortages among healthcare professionals, according to a March survey of 551 healthcare executives.

Possible strike looms for 28,000 Kaiser workers in Southern California

80,000 Kaiser Permanente workers to strike nationwide in October | Fox  Business

Nurses and other healthcare workers have voted to authorize a strike at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, according to a union news release.

The vote covers 21,000 registered nurses, pharmacists, midwives, physical therapists and other healthcare professionals represented by the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, as well as 7,000 members of United Steelworkers. It does not mean a strike is scheduled. However, it gives bargaining teams the option of calling a strike. Unions representing the workers would have to provide a 10-day notice before striking.

The vote comes as Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser is negotiating for a national contract with UNAC/UHCP, along with about 20 other unions in the Alliance of Health Care Unions. The alliance, which has been in negotiations with Kaiser since April, covers more than 50,000 Kaiser workers nationwide.

UNAC/UHCP said union members are facing “protracted understaffing” amid record levels of burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While healthcare workers are facing record levels of burnout after 18 months of the COVID pandemic, they continue to deal with protracted understaffing. Talks at the table center on how to recruit to fill open positions that impact patient care and service,” the union said in a news release. “Kaiser Permanente … wants to slash wages for new nurses and healthcare workers and depress wages for current workers trying to keep up with rising costs for food, housing and other essentials.”

Kaiser has defended its pay amid a challenging pandemic, saying its proposal includes wage increases for current employees “on top of the already market-leading pay and benefits,” as well as a market-based compensation structure for those hired in 2023 and beyond.

In a statement shared with Becker’s Oct. 11, the system also emphasized its continued focus on high-quality, safe care.

“In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff,” the system said. 

This strike would affect Kaiser hospitals and medical centers in Anaheim, Bakersfield, Baldwin Park, Downey, Fontana, Irvine, Los Angeles, Ontario Vineyard, Panorama City, Riverside, San Diego, West Los Angeles and Woodland Hills, as well as various clinics and medical office buildings in Southern California.

Shortage of healthcare workers amid high demand for jobs

https://mailchi.mp/13ef4dd36d77/the-weekly-gist-august-27-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

The US now has more job openings than any time in history—and the mismatch in workforce supply and demand in the broader economy is even more acute in the healthcare sector. While the industry saw significant job losses in April 2020, employment in many healthcare subsectors quickly rebounded to slightly below pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

While ambulatory and hospital employment has mostly recovered, employment in nursing and residential care facilities has continued to decline. 

Healthcare’s sluggish return to pre-pandemic employment levels is not for lack of demand. The number of job listings has grown nearly 30 percent since the second quarter of 2020, to nearly 4.5M openings, while new hires have flatlined, resulting in over half of healthcare job listings remaining unfilled as of Q2 2021. 

In a recent McKinsey & Company survey of over 100 large US hospitals, health system executives ranked workforce shortages among nurses and clinical staff as their greatest barrier to increasing capacity.

Amid the current COVID surge, many systems are offering sizeable bonuses to attract new employees. These strategies will be critical across the next year, as systems look to reduce spending on costly travel nurses, manage COVID surges while continuing to offer elective care, and forestall further burnout.

But longer term, rethinking job functions, integrating new technology and finding ways to educate and upskill critical clinical talent will be key to winning the war for talent.

Vaccination shortfall making it harder to fully staff hospitals

https://mailchi.mp/ef14a7cfd8ed/the-weekly-gist-august-6-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Your Messages of Support | Emerson Hospital

With vaccine mandates on the rise among healthcare organizations, including many of the health systems we work with, we’ve begun to hear a new argument in favor of getting staff vaccinated—one that weighs against the worry that mandates will drive scarce clinical workers away.

With staffing already stretched, some systems have been concerned that implementing mandates could worsen shortages and force an increase in the use of costly agency labor. But, some executives are now telling us, so could not vaccinating staff. As the highly contagious Delta variant continues to sweep through unvaccinated populations, clinical workers who haven’t gotten their shots are especially susceptible to contracting the virus.

That’s driven a sharp increase in unvaccinated nurses and other workers calling out sick with COVID symptoms, which has made a difficult staffing situation even worse.

Some of the high-profile reports of hospitals running out of beds in the face of the Delta variant are actually driven by running out of staff to keep those beds in use—making it even more critical to ensure that frontline workers are protected against the virus.

As a growing number of hospitals and other care facilities mandate that their workers get vaccinated, we’d hope this unwelcome pressure on an already stretched workforce begins to wane.

Are recent labor actions getting nursing unions what they want?

While nurses in Cook County, Illinois, struck a deal in recent days, those on a three-month-plus strike against a Tenet hospital in Massachusetts plan a protest at the chain’s Dallas headquarters.

Thousands of healthcare workers have waged strikes this summer to demand better staffing levels as the pandemic brought greater attention to what happens when a nurse must take care of more patients than they can reasonably handle.

In New York, a report from the attorney general that found nursing homes with low staffing ratings had higher fatality rates during the worst COVID-19 surges last spring helped spur legislators to pass a safe staffing law long-advocated for by the New York State Nurses Association.

While unions elsewhere face a steeper climb to win the success found in New York, through strikes and other actions, they’re attempting to get new staffing rules outlined in their employment contracts.

Most nursing strikes include demands for ratios, or limits on the number of patients a nurse can be required to care for, Rebecca Givan, associate professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, said.

“And employers are very anxious about that because it threatens their bottom line, so often when a compromise is found, it’s something that approaches a ratio but maybe has a bit more flexibility,” Givan said.

Some have been successful, like the 1,000 Chicago-area nurses at Stroger Hospital, Provident Hospital and Cook County Jail who waged a one-day strike on June 24 after negotiating with the county over a new contract for nearly eight months.

They reached a tentative agreement shortly after the strike, stipulating the hiring of 300 nurses, including 125 newly added positions throughout the system within the next 18 months.

The deal also includes wage increases to help retain staff, ranging from 12% to 31% over the contract’s four-year term, according to National Nurses United.

Meanwhile, 700 nurses at Tenet’s St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, have been on strike for over 100 days over staffing levels. Nurses represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association have been trying to get an actual nurse-to-patient ratio outlined for specific units in their next contract.

The two sides haven’t come close to reaching a deal yet, and some nurses will travel to Tenet’s headquarters in Dallas on Wednesday in an attempt to appeal to corporate executives, according to MNA.

At the same time, federal lawmakers wrote to Tenet CEO Ron Rittenmeyer seeking details on the chain’s use of federal coronavirus relief funds amid the strike and alongside record profits it turned last year.

The hospital denied lawmakers’ claims in the letter that Tenet used federal funds to enrich executives and shareholders rather than meet patient and staff needs, saying in a statement it strongly objects to the “mischaracterization of the facts and false allegations of noncompliance with any federal program.”

The strike is currently the longest among nurses nationally in a decade, according to the union.

A number of other major hospital chains have contracts covering their nurses expiring this summer, including for-profit HCA Healthcare and nonprofit Sutter Health.

Unionized nurses at 10 HCA hospitals in Florida have reached a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement, though members still need to ratify it, according to National Nurses United. The details are still unclear.

And after joining NNU just last year, 2,000 nurses at HCA’s Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, ratified their first contract Saturday, which includes wage increases and the formation of a nurse-led staffing committee.

Newly-formed unions take an average of 409 days to win a first contract, according to an analysis from Bloomberg Law. In the healthcare industry, new unions take an average of 528 days to win a first contract, the longest among all sectors examined.

Across the country at Sutter’s California hospitals, disputes haven’t been so easily resolved. Healthcare workers at eight Sutter hospitals planned protests throughout July “to expose the threat to workers and patients caused by understaffing, long patient wait times and worker safety issues at Sutter facilities,” according to Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West, which represents the workers.

Similar to the ongoing Tenet hospital strike, SEIU is highlighting Sutter’s profits so far this year and the federal relief funds it received.

Tenet California hospital workers set May 6 union rally after shareholders meeting

South California healthcare workers plan payment, safety protest during Tenet  Healthcare investor meeting | FierceHealthcare

Workers at three Tenet Healthcare hospitals in Southern California will hold a rally May 6 to highlight their concerns about staffing, wages and benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the union that represents them. 

The rally comes as the National Union of Healthcare Workers is in negotiations with Dallas-based Tenet for more than 600 direct Tenet employees at Fountain Valley Regional, including respiratory therapists, nursing assistants and X-ray technicians. The union is also in negotiations with the Compass Group, a food and support services provider, for about 225 housekeepers and food service workers at Tenet California hospitals in Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos and Lakewood, who are subcontracted by Tenet and employees of Compass.

Union spokesperson Matt Artz told Becker’s workers contend Tenet has remained profitable during the pandemic, but it did not implement appropriate safety measures. He said Tenet also rejected proposals to better staff certain units, and it has rejected the union’s proposal to stop subcontracting out the housekeepers and food service workers who have struggled to afford healthcare.

The union said Tenet, a major for-profit hospital operator, has the financial means to address these issues. The company reported a $97 million profit in the first quarter of 2021. Tenet stock also recently hit a new 52-week high, according to an April 29 report from Zacks Equity Research. 

“These profits are not helping workers or patients,” Christina Rodriguez, a respiratory therapist at Fountain Valley (Calif.) Regional Hospital, said in a May 5 news release. “They’re being made at the expense of patient care and the people who have put their health on the line to help patients during this pandemic. At the height of the surge, I would go home crying that we didn’t have enough staff to help patients struggling to survive.”

Tenet contends the issue is not about Tenet but rather about negotiations between Compass and the union. Tenet said it is focused on staff and patients. 

“This matter is not about us. It’s about a negotiation strictly between the NUHW and the Compass Group, which is a vendor that provides a range of food, laundry and other support services to hospitals,” Tenet told Becker’s. “At all times, our main concern is the safety of our staff, the integrity of our facilities and the best possible outcomes for our patients, and we remain hopeful that the NUHW and Compass will reach a positive outcome at the conclusion of their respective negotiations.”

But the union said Tenet can decide whether to bring the subcontracted housekeepers and food service workers in-house, which would benefit them in terms of wages and health benefits. 

Meanwhile, Compass said it will continue to negotiate in good faith, with union members.

“Our hardworking team members are at the heart of what we do, and their determination to provide best-in-class care and service is inspiring,” a Compass spokesperson told Becker’s. “We take pride in paying competitive wages and providing affordable benefits and continue to uphold our agreement with the NUHW. We have a long history of listening to our employees, working productively with unions, and will continue to meet and negotiate — always in good faith.” 

Respiratory therapists, housekeepers, nursing assistants, medical technicians, dietary workers and others represented by the union said they plan to rally from 11 a.m. to noon May 6 outside Fountain Valley Regional. 

The rally, scheduled after Tenet’s shareholders meeting, includes workers from Los Alamitos (Calif.) Medical Center and Lakewood (Calif.) Regional Medical Center. Union workers whose jobs are subcontracted to Compass will speak during the rally, the union said. 

Into the COVID fray again, or for the first time

https://mailchi.mp/45f15de483b9/the-weekly-gist-october-9-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Addressing Workforce Needs for COVID-19 | University at Albany

While it sometimes seems like the coronavirus has been with us forever, it’s worth remembering that there are still parts of the country that are only now experiencing their first big spike in cases—that’s the nature of a “patchwork” pandemic working its way across a vast country.

One of our health system members in the Midwest, with whom we recently spent time, is in just this situation: they’re seeing their highest inpatient COVID census to date, just this month. As they shared with us, there are advantages and drawbacks to being a “late follower” on the epidemic curve. The good news is that they’re ready.

Back in March, like most systems, they stood up an “incident command center”, and began preparing for a wave of COVID patients, designating a floor of the hospital as a “hot zone”, creating negative pressure rooms, cross-training staff, developing treatment protocols, stockpiling protective equipment, and securing a pipeline of critical therapeutics and testing supplies. There was a moderate but manageable number of cases across the late spring and summer, but never to an extent that stressed the system.
 
Eventually, recognizing that they couldn’t ask their doctors, nurses, and administrators to stay on high alert indefinitely, they “stood down” to a more normal operational tempo, only to watch with dismay as the surrounding community seemingly forgot about the virus, and lessened precautions (masking, distancing, and so forth), wanting life to return to “normal”. And now, the post-Labor Day, post-return-to-school spike has arrived.

The challenge now is getting everyone, inside and outside the system, to stop talking about COVID in the past tense, as though they’ve already “gotten through it.” The preparations they’ve made are paying off now. Hospital operations continue to run smoothly even with a high COVID census, but the workforce is exhausted, and citizens aren’t stepping outside to bang gratefully on pots every night anymore.

Asking the team to return to war footing is no easy task, given the fatigue of the past seven months. A question looms: what is the trigger to restart “incident command”? As cases begin to increase again in some of the original COVID hot spots—New York, New England, the Pacific Northwest—healthcare leaders there will need to learn from the experiences of their colleagues in the newly-hit Midwest, about how to take an already virus-weary clinical workforce back onto the battlefield.