Ensuring your hospital has surge staffing protocol in place is a crucial safeguard when disaster strikes.
by Emily A. Cheslock
Natural disasters, mass casualty events and crises bring significant challenges to hospitals and health care systems. Therefore, surge planning is a critical component of any hospital’s emergency preparedness plan.
COVID-19 put a strain on Texas hospitals. Shortages of personal protection equipment, ventilators and beds led to unprecedented challenges. Perhaps the most severe was a shortage of hospitals’ most important resource: frontline staff.
Personnel shortages caused by COVID-19 underscore the value of a reliable staffing partner. Qualivis, one of the Texas Hospital Association’s endorsed partners, provides the health care staff when and where they’re needed most.
There are several best practices to consider when planning for a smooth emergency staffing process.
Offer Financial Incentives
When staffing during an emergency, remember that hospitals are competing for a limited number of caregivers. Accept the necessity of higher hourly rates. Offering higher pay gives your hospital a competitive edge when recruiting crisis staff.
At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, many hospitals found themselves in dire financial situations. As a result, higher hourly rates may not be an option, but there are other ways to incentivize potential staff.
Offering free meals during shifts, safe childcare options or other helpful benefits can go a long way.
In addition, ask local businesses if they are willing to donate food, products or even gift cards to staff working during a crisis. Many businesses are happy to support their local health care heroes during times of need.
Accept Reduced Credentials, Out-of-State Licensure
Accept reduced credentials or allow staff from other departments to step in where needed. Experts at Qualivis encourage truncated compliance when increased demand shortens standard delivery times. They created their own truncated list of requirements to speed up the process while still ensuring quality care.
Accept the emergency out-of-state licensure process as approved by your state’s licensing boards. More information on this process is available from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
THA also keeps track of waivers and emergency declarations impacting hospitals. THA encourages hospitals to visit our website or reach out to our policy and legal experts to ensure compliance when filling crisis positions.
Expedite the Orientation Process
In a crisis, hospitals can’t wait for the next scheduled orientation to bring staff on board. Consider an expedited process that allows you to bring on staff quicker. Provide literature, modules with videos covering protocol or old-fashioned, on-the-job learning. By expediting some of the administrative work, frontline workers can get on the floor sooner to care for patients and alleviate the onus on existing staff members. Crisis caregivers have typically worked as temporary staff members in hospitals before, making them excellent adapters.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, administrative duties can hinder happiness and lead to burnout. By eliminating formal onboarding tasks for temporary staff, hospitals can boost satisfaction.
Guarantee Plenty of Work Hours
Qualivis recommends providing a guarantee of 48 hours per week for temporary staff. Guaranteed hours allow hospitals to hire fewer crisis providers.
Hospitals should guarantee plenty of hours but should strike a balance with time off. Working too many shifts in a row can lead to burnout and lower quality of care. Instead, ensure that temporary providers get their guaranteed hours and have time to relax off the clock.
Leaders must support their staff by understanding the physical and emotional toll of caring for patients during a crisis. Be visible and communicative. Regular meetings or emails can help your team stay informed and create a sense of confidence.
Beyond providing the physical PPE needed, be sure to protect staff’s mental wellbeing. Crisis staff often travel for the job and are away from the comforts of home, family and friends. Ensure that they have adequate time to recharge and practice self-care. Consider offering resources from your psychiatrists or organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness on best mental wellbeing practices.
Most importantly, acknowledge the sacrifices frontline doctors and nurses make. They are working long hours, often leaving behind their families to care for patients. Recognizing the hard work, potential health risks and emotional toll can make temporary staff feel valued and welcome.
Emily A. Cheslock is the communications manager at the Texas Hospital Association.