Health system executives continue to tell us that the top issue now keeping them up at night is workforce engagement.
Exhausted from the COVID experience, facing renewed cost pressures, and in the midst of a once-in-a-generation rethink of work-life balance among employees, health systems are having increasing difficulty filling vacant positions, and holding on to key staff—particularly clinical talent. One flashpoint that has emerged recently, according to leaders we work with, is the growing divide between those working a “hybrid” schedule—part at home, part in the office—and those who must show up in person for work because of their roles. Largely this split has administrative staff on one side and clinical workers on the other, leading doctors, nurses, and other clinicians to complain that they have to come into work (and have throughout the pandemic), while their administrative colleagues can continue to “Zoom in”. There’s growing resentment among those who don’t have the flexibility to take a kid to baseball practice at 3 o’clock, or let the cable guy in at noon without scheduling time off, making the sense of burnout and malaise even more intense. Add to that the resurgence in COVID admissions in some markets, and the “help wanted” situation in the broader economy, and the health system workforce crisis looks worse and worse. Beyond raising wages, which is likely inevitable for most organizations, there is a need to rethink job design and work patterns, to allow a tired, frustrated, and—thanks to the in-person/WFH divide—envious workforce the chance to recover from an incredibly difficult year.
This week we caught up with a benefits consultant colleague to get her perspective on how employers are thinking about health benefits as they come out of the pandemic. “It seems like employers and health systems have switched places in their enthusiasm for direct contracting,” she shared.
Prior to the pandemic, employer interest in working directly with a health system around a narrow network product to deliver coordinated care was growing, but there were few systems offering attractive solutions. Now more health systems are ready, but the number of employees working remotely has created a new obstacle for direct contracting.
One chief people officer for a large employer noted that while some employees have relocated permanently, others are still hopping from one Airbnb to another: “It’s at the point where I have no idea where half of our people are living on any given day.” In this new “employee diaspora”, some firms are seeing ten percent or more of their formerly office-based workforce now located outside the market, creating challenges for a geographically concentrated network to meet their needs.
How many companies will allow permanent telework, and how many employees will take them up on it, remains to be seen (our colleague suggested we’ll know more in the fall, after the return to school anchors many families in place). But for now, the best employer partners for direct contracting efforts are likely mid-sized regional employers, who are more likely to retain a local workforce, and face fewer obstacles to making benefit design changes.
A topic that’s come up in almost every discussion we’ve had with health system executive teams and boards recently is workforce strategy. Beyond the immediate political debate about whether temporary unemployment benefits are exacerbating a shortage of workers, there’s a growing recognition that the healthcare workforce is approaching something that looks like a “perfect storm”.
The workforce is mentally and physically exhausted from the pandemic, which has taken a toll both professionally and personally. Many workers are rethinking their work-life balance equations in the wake of a difficult year, during which working conditions and family responsibilities shifted dramatically. That, along with broader economic inflation, is driving demands for higher wages and a more robust set of benefits.
Meanwhile, many health systems are shifting into cost-cutting mode, due to COVID-related shifts in demand patterns and continued downward pressure on reimbursement rates, forcing a renewed focus on workforce productivity.
These combined forces threaten to create a negative spiral, which could lead to even worse shortages and deteriorating workplace engagement. It’s striking how quickly the “hero” narrative has shifted to a “crisis” narrative, and we agree completely with one health system board member who told us recently that workforce strategy is now the number one issue on his agenda.
No easy answers here, but we’ll continue to report on innovative approaches to addressing these difficult challenges.
Advocate Aurora Health is implementing a new work model that will move 12,000 non-clinical employee positions in finance, consumer experience and more departments to remote-first operations, according to a May 21 BizTimes report.
Under the new work model, dubbed WorkForward, the 12,000 non-clinical employees who have been working remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to do so permanently; these employees will “no longer have dedicated workspaces” like cubicles or offices at the health system’s Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill.-based offices, the publication reports.
Affected departments include finance and accounting, consumer experience and public affairs, strategy and business development, government relations and administration. Employees will be able to choose to work from home, at a coffee shop or other locations, Advocate Aurora Chief Human Resources Officer Kevin Brady told BizTimes.
“For some departments, remote-first may come to mean monthly team meetings in the office, once-a-week collaboration sessions or a trip to an outside-the-box location that inspires the team,” he said.
Advocate Aurora will “regularly evaluate” its real estate needs with the work model transition; the health system recently vacated non-headquarters office space when its lease ended at the end of 2020. Advocate Aurora is also reconfiguring its remaining facilities to create more “innovative and productive” work areas that employees can use for meetings or temporary office space, according to the report.
Estimations show that between now and March 20, 7% of U.S. counties will experience “significant strains” on their hospital workforces.
Despite recent declines in coronavirus cases nationwide, many hospitals may still have workforce shortages over the next 30 days due to COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to estimates from George Washington University.
The university’s Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity recently launched its COVID-19 County Workforce Estimator, which predicts that between now and March 20, 7% of U.S. counties will experience “significant strains” on their hospital workforces. It attributes the strain to long-standing staffing problems with the added pressure of the pandemic.
It also predicts that 209 counties will need to implement crisis workforce strategies due to its analysis that ICU doctors in those counties will be forced to take care of 24 or more patients at a time. Hospitals in those locations will likely need to use non-ICU-trained staff to help care for patients, the analysis said.
Further, the tool suggests that 12 counties will need to use contingency workforce strategies that include adding more patients per team, float pools and overtime due to COVID-19 hospitalization rates of 25% or more.
While it estimates a portion of counties will face staffing strains over the next month, the estimator calculated that 2,189 counties will be able to maintain normal workforce strategies due to COVID-19 hospitalization rates of 25% or less.
An additional 736 counties either did not have a hospital or didn’t have enough data to assess potential COVID-19 workforce strains.
The estimator tool was built in collaboration with Premier, a healthcare improvement company, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and IQVIA, a healthcare data and analytics organization.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Healthcare staffing shortages have been a worry for some time now due to the nation’s increasingly aging population, but COVID-19 has only added to the concern.
Even before the pandemic, studies predicted physician staffing shortages by upwards of 140,000 by 2030, as well as shortages in-home health aides, nursing assistants, nurse practitioners and medical lab technicians by 2025.
Labor experts suggest hospitals develop a proactive response to staff shortages, and the George Washington estimator was designed to do exactly that, according to Clese Erikson, the principal investigator on the project and deputy director of the Health Equity Workforce Research Center.
Local leaders and hospital administrators can use the tool to gauge their county’s ability to care for COVID-19 hospitalized patients and others who need critical care services.
THE LARGER TREND
Outside of the ICU, many hospitals are also experiencing nursing shortages for several reasons, including the possibility that nurses could get $150 an hour to be a traveling nurse versus the $48 an hour they are paid as hospital staff.
In other cases, nurses had to choose between work and having children at home while schools were not holding in-person sessions. Some nurses who were close to retirement chose to leave while others left for work outside of acute care settings.
On top of workforce shortages, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led many healthcare workers to experience strains on their mental health, including anxiety, stress, depression and loneliness.
ON THE RECORD
“The shortages could occur just as public health officials warn that variants of the coronavirus are spreading in the United States and could trigger a sharp rise in the number of Americans infected,” Erikson said.
“Our new online estimator will help county and local public health officials project shortages in the near future and take steps to help keep staffing at safe levels.”
Like a lot of people, I have really gotten into listening to podcasts over the last year. They’re such an immersive way to learn about the world, and I like how the format lets you dive as deep on a topic as you want. So, I was inspired to start one of my own—but I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.
I couldn’t ask for a better partner on this project than Rashida Jones. A mutual friend suggested that the two of us might have a lot to talk about, and it turned out he was right. I already knew she was a talented actor, but I was impressed by her thoughtful perspective on the world. So, we decided to start a podcast that lets us think through some of today’s most pressing problems together. In our first episode, Rashida and I explore a big question that is top of mind for many people: what will the world look like after COVID-19?
I know it’s hard to imagine right now while new cases are surging around the world, but there will come a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us. I think it’s safe to assume that society will be changed forever, given how disruptive the virus has been to virtually every part of our lives.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before life truly gets back to “normal.” Rashida and I were joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to discuss what to expect in the months to come. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Dr. Fauci on a number of global health issues over the years, including the quest for an HIV vaccine and cure. He’s such a quiet and unassuming guy normally, so it’s been wild to watch him become a huge celebrity.
Dr. Fauci and I are both optimistic that a vaccine will bring an end to the pandemic at some point in the near future. But what the world looks like after that is a lot less clear. I suspect that some of the digitization trends we’ve seen—especially in the areas of online learning, telemedicine, and remote work—will become a regular part of our lives. I hope this episode leaves you hopeful about the future and curious about what comes next.
President-elect Joe Biden’s healthcare agenda: building on the ACA, value-based care, and bringing down drug prices.
In many ways, Joe Biden is promising a return to the Obama administration’s approach to healthcare:
Building on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through incremental expansions in government-subsidized coverage
Continuing CMS’ progress toward value-based care
Bringing down drug prices
Supporting modernization of the FDA
Bolder ideas, such as developing a public option, resolving “surprise billing,” allowing for negotiation of drug prices by Medicare, handing power to a third party to help set prices for some life sciences products, and raising the corporate tax rate, could be more challenging to achieve without overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Biden is likely to mount an intensified federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, enlisting the Defense Production Act to compel companies to produce large quantities of tests and personal protective equipment as well as supporting ongoing deregulation around telehealth. The Biden administration also will likely return to global partnerships and groups such as the World Health Organization, especially in the area of vaccine development, production and distribution.
What can health industry executives expect from Biden’s healthcare proposals?
Broadly, healthcare executives can expect an administration with an expansionary agenda, looking to patch gaps in coverage for Americans, scrutinize proposed healthcare mergers and acquisitions more aggressively and use more of the government’s power to address the pandemic. Executives also can expect, in the event the ACA is struck down, moves by the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers to develop a replacement. Healthcare executives should scenario plan for this unlikely yet potentially highly disruptive event, and plan for an administration marked by more certainty and continuity with the Obama years.
All healthcare organizations should prepare for the possibility that millions more Americans could gain insurance under Biden. His proposals, if enacted, would mean coverage for 97% of Americans, according to his campaign website. This could mean millions of new ACA customers for payers selling plans on the exchanges, millions of new Medicaid beneficiaries for managed care organizations, millions of newly insured patients for providers, and millions of covered customers for pharmaceutical and life sciences companies. The surge in insured consumers could mirror the swift uptake in the years following the passage of the ACA.
Biden’s plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic
Biden is expected to draw on his experience from H1N1 and the Ebola outbreaks to address the COVID-19 pandemic with a more active role for the federal government, which many Americans support. These actions could shore up the nation’s response in which the federal government largely served in a support role to local, state and private efforts.
Three notable exceptions have been the substantial federal funding for development of vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Congress’ aid packages and the rapid deregulatory actions taken by the FDA and CMS to clear a path for medical products to be enlisted for the pandemic and for providers, in particular, to be able to respond to it.
Implications of Biden’s 2020 health agenda on healthcare payers, providers and pharmaceutical and life sciences companies
The US health system has been slowly transforming for years into a New Health Economy that is more consumer-oriented, digital, virtual, open to new players from outside the industry and focused on wellness and prevention. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated some of those trends. Once the dust from the election settles, companies that have invested in capabilities for growth and are moving forcefully toward the New Health Economy stand to gain disproportionately.
Shortages of clinicians and foreign medical students may continue to be an issue for a while
The Trump administration made limiting the flow of immigrants to the US a priority. The associated policy changes have the potential to exacerbate shortages of physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers, including medical students. These consequences have been aggravated by the pandemic, which dramatically curtailed travel into the US.
Healthcare organizations, especially rural ones heavily dependent on foreign-born employees, may find themselves competing fiercely for workers, paying higher salaries and having to rethink the structure of their workforces.
Providers should consider reengineering primary care teams to reflect the patients’ health status and preferences, along with the realities of the workforce on the ground and new opportunities in remote care.
Focus on modernizing the supply chain
Biden and lawmakers from both parties have been raising questions about life sciences’ supply chains. This focus has only intensified because of the pandemic and resulting shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), pharmaceuticals, diagnostic tests and other medical products.
Investment in advanced analytics and cybersecurity could allow manufacturers to avoid disruptive stockouts and shortages, and deliver on the promise of the right treatment to the right patient at the right time in the right place.
Drug pricing needs a long-term strategy
Presidents and lawmakers have been talking about drug prices for decades; few truly meaningful actions have been implemented. Biden has made drug pricing reform a priority.
Drug manufacturers may need to start looking past the next quarter to create a new pricing strategy that maximizes access in local markets through the use of data and analytics to engage in more value-based pricing arrangements.
New financing models may help patients get access to drugs, such as subscription models that provide unlimited access to a therapy at a flat rate.
Companies that prepare now to establish performance metrics and data analytics tools to track patient outcomes will be well prepared to offer payers more sustainable payment models, such as mortgage or payment over time contracts, avoiding the sticker shock that comes with these treatments and improving uptake at launch.
Pharmaceutical and life sciences companies will likely have to continue to offer tools for consumers like co-pay calculators and use the contracting process where possible to minimize out-of-pocket costs, which can improve adherence rates and health outcomes.
View interoperability as an opportunity to embrace, not a threat to avoid or ignore
While the pandemic delayed many of the federal interoperability rule deadlines, payers and providers should use the extra time to plan strategically for an interoperable future.
Payers should review business partnerships in this new regulatory environment.
Digital health companies and new entrants may help organizations take advantage of the opportunities that achieving interoperability may present.
Companies should consider the legal risks and take steps to protect their reputations and relationships with customers by thinking through issues of consent and data privacy.
Health organizations should review their policies and consider whether they offer protections for customers under the new processes and what data security risks may emerge. They should also consider whether business associate agreements are due in more situations.
Plan for revitalized ACA exchanges and a booming Medicare Advantage market
The pandemic has thrown millions out of work, generating many new customers for ACA plans just as the incoming Biden administration plans to enrich subsidies, making more generous plans within reach of more Americans.
Payers in this market should consider how and where to expand their membership and appeal to those newly eligible for Medicare. Payers not in this market should consider partnerships or acquisitions as a quick way to enter the market, with the creation of a new Medicare Advantage plan as a slower but possibly less capital-intensive entry into this market.
Payers and health systems should use this opportunity to design more tailored plan options and consumer experiences to enhance margins and improve health outcomes.
Payers with cash from deferred care and low utilization due to the pandemic could turn to vertical integration with providers as a means of investing that cash in a manner that helps struggling providers in the short term while positioning payers to improve care and reduce its cost in the long term.
Under the Trump administration, the FDA has approved historic numbers of generic drugs, with the aim of making more affordable pharmaceuticals available to consumers. Despite increased FDA generics approvals, generics dispensed remain high but flat, according to HRI analysis of FDA data.
Pharmaceutical company stocks, on average, have climbed under the Trump administration, with a few notable dips due to presidential speeches criticizing the industry and the pandemic.
Providers have faced some revenue cuts, particularly in the 340B program, and many entered the pandemic in a relatively weak liquidity position. The pandemic has led to layoffs, pay cuts and even closures. HRI expects consolidation as the pandemic continues to curb the flow of patients seeking care in emergency departments, orthopedic surgeons’ offices, dermatology suites and more.
Lawmakers and politicians often use bold language, and propose bold solutions to problems, but the government and the industry itself resists sudden, dramatic change, even in the face of sudden, dramatic events such as a global pandemic. One notable exception to this would be a decision by the US Supreme Court to strike down the ACA, an event that would generate a great deal of uncertainty and disruption for Americans, the US health industry and employers.
The pandemic put nurses on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 and caused shifts in the way they provide care.
During this year, nurses have adapted to increased adoption of telehealth and virtual patient monitoring, as well as constantly evolving staffing needs.
These factors — and others, such as the physical and emotional conditions nurses have faced due to the public health crisis — are sure to affect nursing in the years to come. Here, 10 healthcare executives and leaders share their predictions for nursing in the next five years.
Editor’s note: Responses were edited lightly for length and clarity.
Beverly Bokovitz, DNP, RN. Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive of UC Health (Cincinnati): In the next five years, as we continue to encounter a national nursing shortage, I expect to see additional innovative strategies to complement the care provided at the bedside.
One of these strategies will be some type of robot-assisted care. From delivery of medications to answering call lights — and completing simple tasks like needing a blanket or requesting that the heat be adjusted — we will see more electronic solutions. These solutions will allow for a better patient experience and help to exceed the expectations of our patients as customers.
Of course, nothing can take the place of skilled and compassionate bedside care, but many tasks could be automated — and will be — to supplement the professional nursing shortage.
Natalia Cineas, DNP, RN. Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive of NYC Health + Hospitals (New York City): Nurses will continue to play a vital role in addressing the health inequities and social determinants of health among vulnerable populations as the nursing workforce itself becomes more diverse and inclusive. As the largest segment of the healthcare workforce — with some 4 million nurses active in the U.S. — nurses represent the faces of the communities in which they serve. As America becomes a more diverse and inclusive society, so too will the nursing profession become more diverse and inclusive. Currently, industry estimates indicate that between one quarter to one-third of all U.S. nurses identify as a member of a minority group, with between 19 percent and 24 percent of U.S. nurses identifying themselves as Black/African-American; 5 percent to 9 percent identifying themselves as Hispanic; and about 3 percent identifying themselves as Asian. The percentage of minority nurses has been rising steadily for the past two decades and is expected to continue to climb in the coming years.
Blacks and underserved minority populations face numerous genetic, environmental, cultural and socioeconomic factors that account for health disparities, and the impact is particularly visible in the areas of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pregnancy and childbirth mortality, and cancer outcomes, as well as the enormous toll of the current novel coronavirus global pandemic, where communities of color have been among the hardest hit populations.
In New York City alone, statistics compiled by the city’s health department show Blacks and Hispanics together account for 65 percent of all COVID-19 cases; represented 70 percent of all hospitalizations due to COVID-19; and, sadly, 68 percent of all deaths caused by COVID-19. As demonstrated during this pandemic, in the future, technology such as telehealth and virtual patient monitoring will play a major role in the care of patients. There will be a vast need to address social determinants of health by educating and providing resources to allow utilization of this technology such as using “wearable tech” to monitor ongoing health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions and other chronic illnesses.
Ryannon Frederick, MSN, RN. Chief Nursing Officer of Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.):Nursing research will experience extraordinary demand and growth driven by a realization that both complex and unmet patient needs can often be best served by the role of a professional registered nurse. Nurses are uniquely positioned to implement symptom and self-management interventions for patients and their caregivers. Significant disruption in healthcare, including increasing use of technology, will lead to a dramatic shift to understand the role of the RN in improving patient outcomes and implementing interventions using novel approaches. Nursing researchers will provide a scientific body of evidence proving equivalent, if not better, patient care outcomes that can be obtained at a lower cost than traditional models, leading to an even greater demand for the role of the professional nurse in patient care.
Karen Higdon, DNP, RN, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer of Baptist Health Louisville (Ky.):The value of nursing has never been more apparent. Nurses have led the front line during this pandemic. In the next five years, we must be flexible and creative in establishing new models of care, specifically around roles that support nursing, such as assistant and tech roles. Creating roles with clear role definition, that are attractive and meaningful for nursing support will help build consistent, high-quality models for nursing to lead. This consistency, along with IT capabilities that enhance workflow, will better allow nurses to work at the top of their scope.
Karen Hill, DNP, RN. COO and Chief Nursing Officer of Baptist Health Lexington (Ky.): 2020 was declared the “Year of the Nurse” and this reality has never been more true than realizing the personal and professional sacrifices of nurses in dealing with issues surrounding the pandemic. The next five years will require nursing professionals to be flexible to address new, unknown emerging issues in all settings, to be open to new opportunities for leadership in hospitals, schools and communities and to use technology and telehealth to provide safer care to patients. Nurses need to evaluate our practices and traditions that are value-added and leave behind the task orientation of the past. We need to honor our legacy and create our path.
Therese Hudson-Jinks, MSN, RN. Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Patient Experience Officer at Tufts Medical Center and Tufts Children’s Hospital (Boston):Over the next five years, I expect that the support and retention of clinical nurses will become the top priority of every CNO and executive team, given nurses’ direct impact on supporting the business of healthcare. This will be particularly critical because there will be a concerning shortage of experienced clinical nurses as a result of advancing technologies increasing complexity in care, additional nurse roles created outside traditional areas, fierce competition for talent between large healthcare systems, aging baby boom workforce retiring at higher rates year over year, and a lack of sufficient numbers of PhD-prepared nurses working in academia and supporting higher enrollments.
I also believe that CNOs will be laser-focused on creating the practice environment that enhances retention of top, talented clinical nurses, and we will put a greater emphasis on the influence of effective nursing leadership in reaching that goal. In addition, I fully expect that nurses will be seen more as individuals with talents and experience than ever before — not just a number on a team, but rather a professional with specific, unique, talents that are highly sought after in competitive markets.
Finally, I anticipate that nursing innovation will blossom, given the exposure of the “innovation/solutionist superpower” within nurses during the pandemic. Philanthropy will grow exponentially in support of nursing innovation as a result.
Carol Koeppel-Olsen, MSN, RN. Vice President of Patient Care Services at Abbott Northwestern Hospital (Minneapolis): During the COVID-19 pandemic nurses have been working in difficult physical and emotional conditions, which may lead to significant turnover after the pandemic resolves. Nurses have a commitment to serving others and will persevere until the crisis is past; however, when conditions improve, many nurses may decide to pursue careers outside acute care settings. A possible turnover, coupled with a service economy that has been devastated, may result in large numbers of former service workers seeking stable jobs in nursing. Hospitals will have to be nimble and creative to onboard an influx of new nurses that are not only new to the profession but new to healthcare. Tactics to onboard these new nurses may include the use of retired RNs as mentors, instructor-model clinical groups in the work setting, job shadowing and aptitude testing to determine the best clinical fit.
Jacalyn Liebowitz, DNP, RN. Senior Vice President and System Chief Nurse Officer of Adventist Health (Roseville, Calif.): Over the next five years, I see nurses providing more hospital-based care in the home using remote technology. Based on that shift, we will see lower-acuity patients move into home-based care, and higher-acuity care in hospitals will increase. With that, hospital beds will be used at a different level. My bold prediction is that we will not need as many beds, but we will need higher acute care in the hospitals.
Nurses will learn differently. As we are seeing now, nurses have not been able to train in the traditional way. They are already using more remote technology to educate, onboard and orient to their roles. It looks and feels vastly different, and nurses need to be comfortable with that.
As for patient care, I think data that can be gleaned from wearable biometrics, and the use of artificial intelligence will help predict patient care on a patient-by-patient basis. Nurses will work with AI as part of their thought process, instead of completely focusing on their own judgment and assessment.
I also believe we are going to face a nursing shortage post-COVID for a few reasons. Due to the emotional and physical toll of responding to a pandemic, some nurses will decide to retire, and another group will leave based on the risks that go hand-in-hand with the profession.
As for patient care, we are going to collaborate differently. There will be more video conferencing regarding collaboration around the patient. And I think in the future we will see that the full continuum of care will include a wellness plan.
Debi Pasley, MSN, RN. Senior Vice President Chief Nursing Officer of Christus Health (Irving, Texas):I believe the demand for nurses will become increasingly visible and newsworthy throughout the pandemic. This could drive increases in salaries and numbers of qualified candidates seeking nursing as a profession in the medium and long term. The shortage will, however, continue to be a factor, leading to more remote work options to both supplement nursing at the bedside and substitute for in-person care.
Denise Ray, RN.Chief Nursing Executive of Piedmont Healthcare (Atlanta): Nursing schools will need to focus on emergency management and critical care training utilizing a team nursing model. While nursing has become very specialty-driven, the pandemic has demonstrated gaps in our ability to adapt as quickly utilizing a team model where nurses lead and direct care teams. By implementing a team model and enhancing education in the areas of emergency management and critical care, nursing can adapt quickly to the ever-changing environment.
Also, communication with patients and families will take on different dimensions with wider use of tele-therapeutic communication. Nurses will be leaders and liaisons in the process, connecting physicians, patients and patient families virtually.Nurses will play a key role in integrating patient family members as true patient care partners— making sure they have the information they need to serve an active caregiving role for their family members during and after hospitalization. We’ll also see more nurses becoming advanced nurse practitioners, playing an expanded role in all healthcare settings.
Over the past few weeks we’ve fielded a spate of questions from health system executives wondering about their peers’ plans for employees to return to the office. Some who have set a January 1st target for employees to return to their physical workspaces are now reconsidering.
“The first of the year sounded good back in the summer, but now it seems kind of arbitrary,” one system COO told us. “And if we really are entering a winter ‘third wave’ of COVID, it may not be a sound decision for health reasons, either.”Many have been positively surprised by the levels of communication and productivity since many employees began telecommuting full-time back in the spring. “It would be one thing to tell people they had to come back if the work wasn’t getting done. But for many, productivity has actually been better,” one executive shared.
Eight months into the work-from-home experiment (and with a handful of high-profile companies like Twitter saying employees can work from home forever), some leaders are now wondering whether they too should allow some staff to work from home permanently. The opportunities are obvious: real estate and overhead cost savings, and a potential boost to employee engagement and retention. But contemplating a long-term shift raises big questions.
As remote workers in expensive markets look to move to lower-cost cities, or even to states with lower tax rates, does a geographic connection to the area matter? As new staff who have never met in person are added, can culture and teambuilding be sustained? And how to blend operations and communication across remote staff and those who work in the office, by choice or necessity? (“In-person meetings are great, Zoom meetings have gotten better, but the ones where half of us are in a conference room and the other half are dialing in feel like a death knell,” one physician leader told us.)
The pandemic has likely launched a lasting shift toward “work anywhere”. But in order to capture the benefits of remote or flexible work, leaders must invest time and resources to rethink and transform the way they onboard, manage, operate, and communicate with the hybrid teams of the future.
For the past three years, Kaufman Hall has surveyed hospitals and health systems on their performance improvement and cost transformation efforts. This year, these efforts met an historic challenge with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic’s impacts have been severe. Entire service lines were shut down as state governments required or strongly encouraged suspension of elective and non-emergency procedures, in part to conserve critical resources—including personal protective equipment—in the early days of the pandemic. Supply chains were disrupted, with organizations that had come to rely on “just in time” inventory practices scrambling to secure the resources needed to ensure the safety of patients and frontline clinical staff. The healthcare workforce came under incredible pressure, confronting a crisis that threatened to overwhelm the health system’s capacity to treat patients.
In a year unlike any other, our annual survey moved away from the questions of earlier years. We have focused on the impacts of COVID-19 on hospital and health system performance. Then, through interviews with survey respondents on the front line of the battle with COVID-19, we have sought to understand how health system leaders are seeking to find a path forward amid uncertainty that will likely stretch through 2021, if not beyond.
Key findings from this year’s report include the following:
Financial viability. Approximately three fourths of survey respondents are either extremely (22%) or moderately (52%) concerned about the financial viability of their organization in the absence of an effective vaccine or treatment.
Operating margins. One third of our respondents saw year-over-year operating margin declines in excess of 100% from Q2 2019 to Q2 2020.
Volumes. Volumes in most service areas are recovering slowly. In only one area—oncology—have a majority of our respondents seen volumes return to more than 90% of pre-pandemic levels.
Expenses. A majority of survey respondents have seen their greatest percentage expense increase in the costs of supplying personal protective equipment. Nursing staff labor is in second place, cited by 34% of respondents as their most significant area of expense increase.
Healthcare workforce. Three fourths of survey respondents have increased monitoring and resources to address staff burnout and mental health concerns.
Telehealth. More than half of our respondents have seen the number of telehealth visits at their organization increase by more than 100% since the pandemic began. Payment disparities between telehealth and in-person visits are seen as the greatest obstacle to more widespread adoption of telehealth.
Competition. Approximately one third of survey respondents believe the pandemic has affected competitive dynamics in their market by making consumers more likely to seek care at retail-based clinics.