Image of health care facility staff to accompany article about how to deal with a nursing shortage

How to Identify and Fill Staffing Gaps at Your Facility

Every health care facility will experience ebbs and flows in their staffing needs from time to time. Normally, hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices have an increased need for medical staff during the winter for flu season, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created an even greater demand for qualified health care personnel.

These gaps are compounded by the current overall industry shortage of nursing professionals, which is only expected to increase over time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for over 200,000 additional nurses each year through 2026, both to fill newly-created positions and to replace retiring nurses.

If your facility is shorthanded, it’s important to assess your needs and budget so you can allocate the appropriate resources to filling your staffing gaps.

Why Is There a Shortage of Nurses?

The nationwide shortage of qualified nurses is caused by a few compounding factors. One key reason is the aging of the baby boomer generation. As our country’s 73 million baby boomers grow older and require more consistent or complex care, the demand for nursing professionals is expected to increase. Additionally more than half of current RNs are over the age of 50, meaning they will all reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years.

With the increased demand for senior care and many nurses retiring in the near future, one potential solution seems to be recruiting more nursing students to enter the field. However, many nursing programs simply don’t have the staffing and resources to admit all qualified applicants. In 2018, more than 75,000 applicants were rejected — primarily due to a lack of educators, classroom space, and clinical sites and supervisors. With fewer students entering and completing nursing programs, there are fewer nursing professionals entering the workforce.

Signs Your Facility Is Short-Staffed

Unsure whether your facility is short-staffed? Look for these five signs:

1. You’re Noticing More Errors in Patient Care 

If your nurses have high caseloads and insufficient time to devote to each patient, they’re more likely to make errors in patient care. Medication errors and medical care errors can not only decrease patient outcomes and lead to legal repercussions, but they are also associated with higher mortality rates in your facility.

2. Patients Are Complaining More Frequently About Facility Conditions 

Overworked nurses may struggle to meet each of their patient’s needs in a timely manner, and may not even have the time to develop rapport. Patients may report that their call lights aren’t being answered quickly enough, the physical conditions in the facility aren’t clean or tidy, or they simply don’t feel cared for by their staff. They may even take it upon themselves to complete these tasks independently, which can lead to an increased rate of patient falls.

3. Your Nurses Are Burnt Out 

Whether they say anything to you directly, your nurses have started to show signs of burnout. They’re taking increased sick days, snapping at coworkers, or simply seem disengaged with their work. You might even observe a high turnover rate in your unit or facility, and you may struggle to retain both new and seasoned employees.

4. Workplace Injuries Are More Common 

If your facility is short-staffed, your current nurses will need to tackle physically demanding tasks, such as patient lifts and transfers, by themselves. This puts the nurse at a higher risk of injury; if they are unable to come to work or perform certain physical tasks, this can amplify any effects of short staffing.

5. Your Staff Tells You They Need More Help 

Perhaps most obviously, your nursing staff may tell you they’re overworked, overwhelmed, or struggling to complete their daily responsibilities. Listen to them and take their concerns seriously. They’re the ones on the floor day in and day out, so they know what they need to do their job properly.

How to Fill Health Care Staffing Gaps

If you find your facility does need extra help, here are a few steps you can take to increase your staff’s capacity.

Look at Your Current Staff and See If Your Nursing Unit Manager Can Distribute Shifts for Better Coverage

Sometimes, a staffing gap can be resolved (or at least, its effects can be decreased) by redistributing your team’s shifts. Your nursing unit manager may be able to accommodate increased staffing on busier days or units. The Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Work Environment for Nurses and Patient Safety outlines considerations for staffing beyond federal and state requirements, including recommended staffing amounts and how to properly calculate your facility’s needs.

Review Your Nursing Unit Budgets

Carefully review each of your nursing unit budgets to see how much funding can be allocated to staffing. You may find you have some room in the budget to hire additional nurses, or you may have to find areas in which to reduce costs to accommodate new hires.

Determine Which Units Need the Most Help and Prioritize Open Positions Accordingly

In an ideal world, you’d be able to post open positions and immediately fill all of your staffing gaps with qualified candidates immediately. However, with a nationwide nursing shortage, you’ll want to fill the units that need the most help first. Start by determining which units need the most staffing, then prioritize filling those open positions accordingly. Once those are filled, you can open up additional positions.

Decide What Type of Staff You Need

Your facility’s budget and needs will dictate what type of staff you need. You may consider bringing on full-time or part-time employees for consistent gaps, or you may opt for per-diem nurses to be “on-call” for expected or unexpected increases in staffing needs.

Consider Working with a Nursing Staffing Agency

Many facilities find that partnering with a nursing staffing agency is the ideal solution to fill both temporary and long-term gaps. Whether you’re looking to fill shifts when a nurse is out on leave or simply need to account for an increase in patient numbers, an agency can quickly match qualified nurses to open positions.

If you need to fill a staffing gap at your facility, consider choosing Clipboard Health as your nursing agency. Fill out a short form to speak with a staffing expert who can help you meet your facility’s needs.