Kaiser’s 22.5% raises avert nurse strike

Members of the California Nurses Association have reached a tentative agreement with Kaiser Permanente, averting a planned two-day strike by more than 21,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners in Northern California.

Both sides announced the tentative agreement Nov. 17.

Union members at Kaiser Northern California facilities have been in negotiations since June, according to a CNA news release. Registered nurses and nurse practitioners in Northern California were set to strike Nov. 21 and Nov. 22.

The four-year tentative deal boosts wages for Northern California nurses by 22.5 percent over the life of the contract, according to a statement Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser shared with Becker’s. Kaiser had previously proposed 21.25 percent in wage increases over four years.

“The tentative agreement is driven by the changing economy, including inflation, significant changes in the marketplace and our commitment to providing our employees with excellent pay and benefits to attract and retain the best nurses,” Kaiser’s statement says.

According to both sides, the tentative agreement also includes:       

  • An agreement to add more than 2,000 new registered nurse and nurse practitioner positions.   
  • Increased tuition reimbursement for nurses’ education.       
  • The creation of a new regional equity, diversity and inclusion committee.       
  • Language including agreement that healthcare is a human right.

We are very pleased with this new contract, which will help us recruit new nurses and retain experienced RNs and nurse practitioners,” CNA President Cathy Kennedy, RN, said in a news release. “We not only won the biggest annual raises in 20 years, but we have also added more than 2,000 positions across our Northern California facilities. This will ensure safe staffing and better patient care.”

Ms. Kennedy also praised Kaiser’s commitment “to a workplace that is free from racism and discrimination” and the health system’s agreement “that we must fight racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare outcomes.”

“The tentative agreement honors our Northern California nurses with a market-based economic package that accounts for inflation, accelerates our investments in staffing, and addresses workplace safety, diversity and equity, remote work, and other key matters in a way that is sustainable and benefits our members and patients as well,” Kaiser’s statement reads.

Union members in Northern California will vote on approving the new four-year contract over the next few weeks. Registered nurses at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center also reached a tentative agreement and will vote on the deal Nov. 22.

Do nurses quit their jobs, or their managers? 

https://mailchi.mp/cfd0577540a3/the-weekly-gist-november-11-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

There’s an old trope among human resources leaders that people don’t quit companies, they quit managers. There’s certainly truth to it. If an employee has a difficult or inattentive boss, they are at much greater risk of leaving for another opportunity. But a “bad” manager is not always someone lacking in the skills necessary to engage employees; sometimes the problem is that their own roles are structured in ways that make it nearly impossible to succeed. 

We’ve recently heard stories from leaders at several health systems describing the untenable management scope for many of their mid-level nursing leaders. It’s common to hear that nurse managers have dozens of direct reports, and a few systems reported that some of their managers have well over a hundred individuals reporting to them. With that scope, it’s impossible to develop relationships with everyone on the team, much less be able to customize roles, or provide tailored feedback and support. 

For younger workers, the manager relationship is critical for engagement, skill development, and building loyalty. 

Given today’s intense margin pressures, it’s tempting to cut clinical managers and increase the span of control for those who remain—but underinvestment here is short-sighted, and will surely exacerbate challenges maintaining critical capacity in the near-term, as well as building the foundation for future growth.

 

The cost of hospital contract labor in 22 numbers

Many hospitals and health systems aim to recruit and retain permanent staff to replace contract labor positions, which have seen wages skyrocket because of staff shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hospitals across the country have relied on contract labor and temporary staffing agencies to support their clinical teams when many burned-out providers are exiting healthcare. An October survey conducted by Bain & Company found that 25 percent of physicians, advanced practice providers and nurses are considering changing careers. Eight-nine percent of the providers thinking about leaving the profession cited burnout as the driving force. 

Staffing shortages are driving labor costs to an unsustainable level for hospitals operating on razor-thin margins and reducing temporary staffing costs is top of the agenda for many financial executives looking to reduce expenses in the coming quarters.

Here are 22 numbers that demonstrate the cost of contact labor for hospitals, according to reports from Kaufman Hall, Definitive Healthcare, Vaya Workforce and big hospital operators:

1. The demand for contract labor increased 500 percent in fall 2021 compared with 2019, according to healthcare staffing services company Vaya Workforce. While demand has since decreased, it is still nearly triple pre-pandemic levels and is projected to remain as high as 20 percent above the 2019 baseline.

2. In 2020, the average amount hospitals spent on contract labor was $4.6 million, more than double the average expense of $2.2 million in 2011, according to a report from Definitive Healthcare, a data and analytics company.

3. Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Mary’s Campus spent $286.8 million on contract labor in 2020, the most of any hospital in the country that year, according to Definitive Healthcare’s analysis of about 3,100 U.S. hospitals

4. From 2019 to 2022, the hourly wage rate for contract nurses increased 106 percent, according to Kaufman Hall. Contract nurses are earning an average of $132 an hour in 2022 versus $64 an hour in 2019. At the height of the pandemic, some travel nurses earned up to $300 an hour, with rates as high as these placing immense pressure on hospital balance sheets.

5. The rise in contract labor from 2019 through March of 2022 led to a 37 percent increase in labor expenses per patient, equating to between $4,009 and $5,494 per adjusted discharge.

6. Hospitals with 25 beds or fewer spent about $460,000 on contract labor in 2020 compared to hospitals with more than 250 beds that spent almost $11 million on average, according to Definitive Healthcare.

7. Hospitals in the western U.S. have the highest contract labor expenses, with an average of $9.6 million reported in 2020. Large cities, high cost of living and high salary rates in the region contribute to this high average.

8. Labor costs were one of the core reasons Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems reported a net loss of $42 million in the third quarter, but CFO Kevin Hammons said he expects to see a 40 percent to 50 percent reduction in contract labor costs next year compared with 2022.

9. Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare reported a 19 percent decrease in contract labor costs in the third quarter compared to the second quarter, allowing the system to absorb much of the market-based wage adjustment costs for its employee workforce, CFO Bill Rutherford said during an Oct. 21 earnings call.  

10. According to Kaufman Hall’s “2022 State of Healthcare Performance Improvement” report, published Oct. 18, 46 percent of hospital and health system leaders identify labor costs as the greatest opportunity for cost reductions. This was significantly up from the 17 percent of respondents who noted labor costs as their greatest opportunity to cut costs last year.

11. There are some hopeful signs that the use of contract labor has stabilized and is steadily falling, according to Kaufman Hall: 44 percent of hospitals in its survey reported that their utilization of contract labor is declining while 29 percent said that it is holding steady.

U.S. economy adds 261,000 jobs in October as labor market stays solid

https://www.axios.com/2022/11/04/october-job-report-2022-release

The labor market remained solid in October: the U.S. economy added 261,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate rose to 3.7% from 3.5%, the government said on Friday.

Why it matters: The last major economic report before the midterm elections shows that while jobs growth has slowed, employers continue to add workers at a robust pace as the labor market defies fears of a recession.

Driving the news: October’s jobs gains were above the 205,000 payrolls economists expected. It’s a slightly slower pace than the 315,000 jobs added in September, which was revised higher by 52,000.

  • Average hourly earnings, a proxy for wage growth, rose by 0.4% in October — a bit faster than the prior month, when wages grew 0.3%.
  • The share of people working or looking for work, known as the labor force participation rate, was 62.2%, a tick below the 62.3% in September.

The backdrop: The Federal Reserve this year has raised interest rates at historically rapid pace in an effort to slow the economy and, in turn, beat back soaring inflation. Many economists warn that the U.S. will soon enter a recession. Still, the labor market has chugged along.

  • Layoffs are being reported in a handful of sectors, including technology. But a range of job market indicators have suggested that, generally, employers are hungry for workers and trying to hold on to staff.

That is worrisome for the Fed, which fears the too-hot labor market will stoke inflation. But, on the flip side, it’s been great for American workers — though the booming job market has been coupled with decades-high inflation that’s eaten away at wage gains.

  • The economy is a top issue for voters in next week’s midterm elections.

Massachusetts’ 19K vacant hospital jobs: ‘Our healthcare system has never been more fragile’

There are an estimated 19,000 full-time job vacancies across Massachusetts acute care hospitals, according to a survey published Oct. 31 by the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association.

Hospitals are working to address backlogs and transfer patients to post-acute care settings while skyrocketing labor costs — including a projected $1 billion in travel labor costs this year — are compounding healthcare facilities’ financial woes, according to the report. These challenges are hampering hospital operations as well as leading to care delays and reduced access to care.

Fewer workers mean that fewer beds are available for patients, while the demand for care increases due to deferred care throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the behavioral health crisis and reduced access to community-based services continue to challenge hospitals throughout the state. At any given time, more than 1,500 patients are in acute hospital beds awaiting placement to a specialized behavioral health bed or post-acute care, according to the MHA.

“Our healthcare system has never been more fragile, and its leaders have never been more concerned about what’s to come in months ahead,” Steve Walsh, president and CEO of the MHA, said in an Oct. 31 news release shared with Becker’s Hospital Review. “They are exhausting every option within their control to confront these challenges, but this is an unsustainable reality and providers are in dire need of support.”

In response to the survey, 37 hospitals — representing 70 percent of the state’s total hospital employment — reported 6,650 vacancies among 47 positions critical to hospital operations and clinical care. The positions range from direct care nurses to lab personnel and clinical support staff. Eighteen of the 47 positions have a vacancy rate greater than 20 percent

At a 56 percent vacancy rate, licensed practical nurses is the most in-demand position, while home health aides (34 percent), mental health workers (32 percent), infection control nurses (26 percent) and CRNAs (24 percent) are also highly sought after.

Survey respondents identified 6,650 vacancies. The 47 positions included in the survey, which was conducted this summer, account for less than half of all hospital roles. The MHA said it extrapolated that across all positions and hospitals to arrive at an estimated 19,000 vacancies across the state.

Staffing shortages are driving labor costs to an unsustainable level for many hospitals already grappling with margins close to zero or in the red. Hospitals have relied on high-cost temporary staffing to fill critical positions during the pandemic, resulting in average hourly wage rates for travel nurses increasing 90 percent since 2019, according to the report. Massachusetts hospitals reported spending $445 million on temporary registered nurse staffing halfway through the fiscal year, with temporary RN staffing costs increasing 234 percent from fiscal year 2019 to March 2022.

If urgent steps are not taken to address healthcare’s staffing shortage, hospitals will continue to face capacity challenges and overpay for labor, which will lead to fiscal instability, according to Mr. Walsh. 

The MHA urged providers, payers, public officials and government agencies to address the workforce crisis by investing in training and education, expanding the workforce pipeline, providing financial support to hospitals and advancing new models of care such as telehealth and at-home care. 

Surging flu and RSV cases suggest difficult winter ahead

https://mailchi.mp/f1c5ab8c3811/the-weekly-gist-october-28-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

Early into flu season, nationwide flu activity is ten times higher than at the same point last year. Meanwhile, cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a virus most severe in young children and the elderly, have tripled in the past two months, with some children’s hospitals reporting “unprecedented” admissions for the virus. And most experts expect at least some winter COVID surge, possibly involving several different variants. The combined threat of these viruses circulating together has been labeled a potential “tripledemic.” 

The Gist: Across the past two winters, the widespread adoption of COVID prevention measures, including masking and social distancing, kept the spread of other viruses at bay. But with return to normal life for most Americans, other viruses have returned to circulation—and with a vengeance, as population immunity toward flu and RSV has weakened. 

While it’s hard to predict when and where local surges will occur, hospitals struggling with staffing shortages may be forced to hire more contract labor to care for an influx of patients—making this a potentially challenging winter for already stretched facilities.

COVID’s lingering effects on the US workforce

https://mailchi.mp/f1c5ab8c3811/the-weekly-gist-october-28-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

As the nation continues to grapple with the fallout from COVID, one of the greatest unknowns is “long COVID”, the broad range of health problems experienced by a significant number of individuals after contracting the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines long COVID as any post-COVID condition lasting three months or longer.

In the graphic above, we aim to quantify the prevalence of long COVID and its ongoing impact on the US workforce. While estimates for these numbers vary, data compiled by Brookings show that COVID infections in roughly one in four working age adults have resulted in long COVID, and up to one in four individuals with long COVID are unable to work due to their lingering health problems. Long COVID is also more prevalent in middle-aged adults, who are often at the peak of their working years. Dealing with symptoms like chronic fatigue and brain fog, long COVID patients are more likely to be unemployed or working reduced hours, compared to a pre-COVID baseline of the general adult population. 

While it’s difficult to assess the precise impact on the nation’s current labor shortage, the estimate that 4M working age adults are no longer working because of long COVID equals about 40 percent of the 10M total job openings in August of this year, undoubtedly exacerbating ongoing economic challenges. 

Fitch: Nonprofit hospitals face prolonged labor challenges despite recent respite

Nonprofit hospitals are bracing for a challenging few months as healthcare and social assistance job vacancies remain high against a backdrop of low unemployment, Fitch Ratings said in an Oct. 25 update.

Healthcare and social assistance job openings fell for two consecutive months to 7.7 percent as of August, but the number of openings remains above the highest level recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic.

One encouraging sign is the slowly declining number of quits — 2.3 percent (486,000 quits) in August 2022 compared with a peak of 3.1 percent (626,000 quits) in November 2021. However, current quit rates remain high and are on track to exceed last year, according to Fitch.

“[not-for-profit] hospital quits will need to normalize to well below pre-pandemic levels in order to reduce staffing shortages and a reliance on contract/temporary labor,” Fitch Director Richard Park said in the news release.

The labor shortage saw hospital employees’ average weekly earnings increase 21.1 percent since February, significantly higher than the 13.6 percent earnings growth of overall private sector employees, according to Fitch. But ambulatory healthcare services employees’ earnings increased by only 12.6 percent over the same period.

“Wage increases and employee recruitment challenges may amplify the role of ambulatory care in the overall healthcare sector and continue the acceleration of inpatient care to outpatient settings,” Mr. Park said.

https://www.fitchratings.com/research/us-public-finance/labor-strife-to-continue-for-us-nfp-hospitals-despite-reprieve-25-10-2022

Will agency labor needs become permanent? 

https://mailchi.mp/b1e0aa55afe5/the-weekly-gist-october-7-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

“A few months ago, I was confident we would be able to wean our system off travel nurses. But now I’m not so sure,” a chief nursing officer recently shared with us. Like most health systems, they had seen their use of agency nurses decline from peaks during the Delta and Omicron waves of the pandemic, and were encouraged by anecdotes of nurses returning to staff after stints as travelers. But today they remain “persistently stuck with a quarter of the agency nurses we needed at the peak”. 
 
Seeing nurses returning from travel roles makes sense. It’s naturally a time-limited job—eventually the desire to be home wins out over the earning potential on the road. But another nursing leader shared his fear that a stint as a traveler could become an expected part of the arc of a nurse’s career. And from a hospital operations perspective, agency nursing needs are no longer connected to COVID, but are instead driven by general capacity needs in a tight labor market, keeping the operating rooms, emergency department, and ICUs open.

Health systems and physician groups continue to face labor costs that are up to 40 percent higher than 2019. A permanent need for agency nurses will frustrate efforts to rein in labor costs, through both the dollars spent on premium labor, and the resulting need to boost staff nurse salaries when a portion of their colleagues’ pay is anchored at the “traveling rate”.