By Chris Zuccarini, Managing Director, National Healthcare Practice and Jennifer Negley VP National Healthcare Practice
Staffing shortages have hampered the United States economy since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This shortage is particularly acute for the healthcare industry which faces a growing scarcity of trained professionals.
Healthcare employment has declined by 2.7% since the start of the pandemic. That exceeds the overall workforce decline of 2.3%. Low medical school admissions indicate that the situation won’t improve any time soon. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2030, there will be a shortage of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians in primary and specialty care. To make matters worse, nurses, home health aides, and medical assistant positions also have become difficult to fill.
The staffing shortage has several causal factors. Baby boomer workers are retiring, with many choosing to retire early due to the pandemic. These exits combined with the shortage of trained professionals has led to numerous unfilled positions. This can lead to employee “burnout”— feeling exhausted and overworked— among those remaining employed. These employees are under greater stress as they have fewer peers to rely on for assistance.
Meanwhile, higher salaries are eating the payroll budget. The talent shortage has also given existing workers the power to demand higher salaries. For workers earning less than $60,000 per year, the reservation wage—the minimum acceptable wage for a job—increased by 26.4% from March 2020 to March 2021. Physician compensation has increased 29% since 2017, almost double the cumulative rate of inflation. Organizations must find creative ways to
enhance recruitment efforts when their payroll budget goes to fewer employees.
Measures to address staffing shortages
Many healthcare organizations enlist help from traveling professionals and clinicians to compensate for the scarce available talent. New employees may need to quickly learn an organization’s processes upon joining. However, rushing training can result in mistakes that could lead to costly outcomes.
All healthcare workers temporary and permanent—need to be thoroughly trained on an organization’s procedures so they adhere to precise protocols. Implementing an onboarding process that makes clear risk and responsibility is also beneficial
The risk of putting profits ahead of patient care
Another factor affecting the healthcare space is the rise in mergers and acquisitions. Some organizations engaging in M&A activity may take measures to cut costs to boost profitability. These measures may include laying off staff and eliminating positions. These organizations may pay the price, though. Scaling down a workforce can result in burnout for those who remain.
Physician-related studies consistently show a strong association between medical staff burnout levels and errors that result in malpractice suits. Likewise, profit-driven decisions that harm patients can lead to costly lawsuits. Losses incurred in this manner are likely to be excluded from coverage under medical malpractice policies.
Striking a balance with limited resources
Many healthcare organizations will have to implement creative recruiting techniques and benefits strategies as they struggle to fill open positions. Hiring candidates from outside the area can play a role in this. There is no evidence to suggest that someone from outside a region would be any less competent in their profession. Still, organizations should have firm onboarding protocols to assure that all employees are following standard procedures. Benefits are now an important part of job acceptance decisions. Benchmarking against the competition is a good way to see if some benefits enhancements could help with recruiting.
With creative recruiting and attractive benefits in play, organizations should then prioritize the mental and physical well-being of employees. Limiting hours and encouraging time off can keep employees from becoming overworked. Structuring departments to prevent any one individual from carrying too much stress or responsibility can also reduce burnout. Employees make fewer mistakes when they are rested and focused, decreasing the chances of legal action being taken against them.
While the interplay between malpractice insurance cost and benefit offerings would not seem clearcut at first glance, we now know one can directly impact the other. Working with an experienced team dedicated to the healthcare space versed in both sectors can make all the difference.
For more information on this topic and other insurance options, please contact Jenn Negley, Vice President, Risk Strategies Company, 267-251-2233 or JNegley@Risk Strategies.com.