The COVID-19 pandemic brought a devastating blow to the industry, and it’s still having ripple effects. At this point in 2022, what kind of impact is the pandemic having on operations?
We don’t think about it as much as we have in the past, but it’s still with us. We have about five to 10 patients in the hospital a day who are COVID-positive, and while our staff is very used to taking care of these patients and the severity is different, it still requires all the gowning up, all the personal protective equipment—a different level of care than you’re dealing with when you have a patient without COVID.
What do staffing challenges look like for you?
It’s global. It impacts all of us. I’ve had the benefit of getting to serve as chair of the Maryland Hospital Association’s Task Force on Maryland’s Future Health Workforce, and I’ve had a chance to get to see other hospitals and how they’re dealing with it and talk to other experts.
We first have focused a lot on trying to expand the pipeline of getting more people into healthcare fields, and there are a lot of different ways to do that. One of the things we are doing more of is collaborating with not-for-profit organizations: closer relationships with community colleges, with universities, with not-for-profits that train employees, because we want to be aware of where we can pull from. Another aspect is making sure we are reducing any barriers to people getting their healthcare education. We know there’s probably about a 20% dropout rate for nursing students, and there’s an opportunity to have a lot more wraparound services. If we can reduce that dropout rate by half, for instance, that’s a lot more people coming into the workforce.
We recently have had a program to take some of our employees and put them through training to get their LPN certification, and one of the aspects of that program is to make sure that we’re paying them for the time they study. We’ve got to really think about all aspects of how to make people successful when they go back to get their education, so they can get back into the workforce.
How would you say, in general, the staffing shortage is compared to 2020 and 2021?
I think 2022 has obviously been the worst, and we really started to see it hit in late 2021. It was driven up, I think, by the phenomenon of having a lot of agency labor demanded by different parts of the country that were experiencing spikes in COVID. I think that fed on people’s burnout factor that they had gone through, the attitude that they needed to make money while there’s an opportunity to make money. It’s really changed the perspective. It’s important to say that I completely respect the way workers have gone about that. If I had the same incentives, I think I’d consider the same opportunities.
A place like Ascension has always done a great job at making sure we have employee assistance programs and ways we’re looking out for employees’ well-being, but I think in the future, it’s got to change and be even more intense. We’re talking with some local not-for-profits and local service agencies to be able to offer those services in the hospital. A lot of things have gone online, and that’s great and makes it convenient and accessible, but really thinking about how people have that personal touch, so that when they have a problem—any sort of problem, whether it’s financial or emotional or career-oriented—they’ve got a place to go to be able to talk through that.
It doesn’t have to be a competitive opportunity. Again, with my work on the Maryland Hospital Association’s task force, we were very collaborative. There are ways that hospitals can work together to offer those services.