This blog is taken from a recent HealthStream webinar entitled “Floating Employees During Flu Season – How to Let ShiftWizard Guide Your Scheduling Decisions.” The webinar was moderated by Sarah Enders, HealthStream’s Senior Product Marketing Manager and featured Gia Milo-Slagle, Senior Product Director and Richie Hernandez, Senior Solution Advisor.
The webinar addressed critical aspects of managing float pools during the annual scheduling nightmare known as flu season. The composition of the flu vaccine has been updated and vaccine manufacturers are currently estimating that they will be able to supply the U.S. with as many as 170 million doses of the vaccine, but the onset of flu season and the severity of the flu is unpredictable. This leaves healthcare leaders with a significant staffing challenge – a challenge made even more difficult due to the ongoing nursing shortage. So, what can leaders do to ensure safe coverage?
Milo-Slagle began by addressing some of the areas on which HealthStream customers have been focused as the nursing shortage continues to change how organizations build their staffing strategies. Leaders are looking for solutions that can be efficiently implemented enterprise-wide, allowing them to prepare for high and fluctuating patient demand, allowing credentialed staff to be floated effectively while still ensuring seamless care, and preserving nursing satisfaction. Creating a solution that can address each of these concerns is a tall order, and can best be addressed with the help of technology.
Accomplishing these objectives requires careful planning if healthcare leaders want to remain compliant with the American Nursing Association (ANA) and Joint Commission guidelines on floating. First, Milo-Slagle shared the ANA’s definition of floating. “The reassignment of staff from one nursing unit to another based upon the patient census and acuities.” When floating is possible, it does have the potential to save money, particularly over the more expensive options of agency and per diem staffing.
Both the ANA and the Joint Commission have guidelines that inform how healthcare organizations manage their floating practices. The ANA has the following guideline. “Registered Nurses must have the professional right to accept, reject, or object in writing to any assignment that puts patients or themselves at serious risk for harm.” The Joint Commission’s policy on floating is that “when an employee is asked to float to a different unit, that unit must be similar to his or her own and that the nurse must demonstrate competencies specific to that unit”.
Floating can certainly have an impact on patient care, and their perceptions of care, but it can also significantly impact nursing satisfaction. Milo-Slagle shared a pre-pandemic study conducted in 2019 by the Nursing and Health Sciences Research Journal. The study reported that 44% of nurses were unhappy working in acute care hospitals that required them to float. In order to build a better float pool process, they recommended the following strategies to improve nurse comfort with floating.
Float Pools can be inherently problematic. Milo-Slagle shared that access to float pool staff can be uneven across the organization in terms of knowing which staff are available and/or qualified to work in a particular unit. Manual processes can be disjointed, inefficient, and very labor-intensive. Traditional methods for floating staff make it very difficult to float staff across multiple campuses. In addition, float pools typically don’t mature along with organizational goals and initiatives, and fail to grow in ways that will support the organization as it changes and grows to meet patient and staff needs.
While there are many floating options in healthcare today, there is one option that is emerging as a better, technology-enabled solution for healthcare organizations – flex pools. Milo-Slagle shared that a float pool is defined as a pool of in-house staff that may be shared across departments. A flex pool is defined as an internal pool consisting of staff that specifically wish to flex across all departments and may be compensated for their ability to work in multiple areas. She pointed out that flex pools allow organizations to use trained, internal staff that have autonomy over their schedules, but that this solution requires a solid technological foundation to be effective.
Hernandez demonstrated how ShiftWizard can help streamline employee scheduling for healthcare leaders while empowering nurses to take control of their own schedules. He began with the user-friendly dashboard that helps managers quickly establish whether a unit is properly staffed, and reassign staff members as needed. Hernandez also shared that employees are able to use ShiftWizard (including a user-friendly mobile app) to let managers know when they are available for a shift.
Because ShiftWizard can be integrated with an organization’s electronic medical record (EMR), it can also be used as a predictive census tool to help realign staffing and scheduling to the data found in the EMR at 30, 60, 90 or even 120 days into the future. In addition, ShiftWizard provides productivity reporting to help leaders easily see units that are over or under-staffed. There is also a communication feature that allows leaders to quickly communicate with staff by text, voice mail or email when there is an open shift.
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