For a small and rural hospital, doing more with less is the norm, and meeting any kind of staffing need is no exception. We face it not only in the IT department, but also in recruiting most types of professionals, whether it's clinicians, pharmacists or anyone in between.
When it comes to IT, having multidisciplinary personnel is key. We can't just look for someone to be a network administrator; our hires must also know applications, security and everything else in between. I call it the “hit by the bus” nightmare—if one staff member has to miss a day or a week, and he or she is the only one who knows a particular application, then we're in trouble if there's no backup plan.
Over time, we've found that employee engagement is vital, whether it involves reducing issues that sap productivity or trying to gain efficiency. Using wise resource utilization supports improvement of coverage for employees who are likely to fill multiple roles at a small healthcare organization. Components of this strategy include “growing your own,” cross-training and employee wellness.
The benefits of growing your own staff are straightforward. Chadron Community Hospital's education and training programs encourage workers to perform at the best possible level. The IT department alone has seen education breed innovation, excitement, empowerment and a fresh look in all-around added value to our facility.
This works throughout the facility and not just within IT. For example, Chadron Community has a program in the nursing department that provides grants to students and hires them after graduation. The program also encourages existing nursing staff to grow within the organization, and we have many certified nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses who became RNs through the program. As a result of this approach, our worked hours per weighted patient day is 13% below state averages for critical-access hospitals, and staffing cost per weighted day is 9% below average.
Cross-training provides multiple benefits throughout the organization. For example, radiology technologists are encouraged to add credentials and can perform various procedures—our radiology department ranks among the lowest of the state's critical-access hospitals in terms of hours per procedure and staffing cost per procedure. We gain efficiencies in having a radiology technologist ready to do more than one kind of procedure, and cross-training mitigates the risk of productivity loss for which small facilities are at high risk.
Efficiency is critical for small healthcare organizations, whether that involves IT in particular or operations as a whole. For example, we are able to translate some of the lessons we've learned in treating cardiac rehabilitation patients to build an employee wellness program. Having healthy employees has downstream benefits—it gives us flexibility as census and workloads fluctuate, and we can document savings as well. For example, support-service costs are 47% lower than the median in terms of hours per square foot; in our laundry, total cost per pound is 49% lower than the average in the state for critical-access hospitals. We experience less absenteeism, and surveys suggest that employees in excellent health are better able to perform their jobs at high levels.
If we can keep our employees disease-free, the benefits are also significant for employees, their families and the workforce as a whole. We're demonstrating that a healthy employee is a happy and productive individual, with benefits that cascade to other employees and the patients as well.