The Future of Workforce Planning: Flexible Staffing Solutions

December 21, 2022

Workforce planning presents an escalating challenge for healthcare organizations today. An aging population requiring more care, nurse shortages, pandemic-driven patient surges, and a nursing field plagued by burnout have created the perfect storm of strains on an already overstretched healthcare system. Hospital administrators struggle to maintain adequate staff-to-patient ratios while controlling labor costs that threaten organizational stability.

Now more than ever, healthcare leaders need solutions to optimize their workforce, reduce costs, and provide excellent patient care with maximum efficiency. Building flexibility into staffing strategies through supplemental contingent labor models has become mission-critical for healthcare facilities hoping to thrive in the face of ongoing challenges.

Defining Flexible Healthcare Staffing

Flexible healthcare staffing refers to finding the right staffing mix for your facility that blends core, flexible, and contingent staffing solutions. It encompasses a spectrum of full-time nurses as well as non-permanent nurses working on a flexible, as-needed basis to cover census fluctuations, vacations, leaves of absence, seasonal census spikes, and unplanned call-outs or shortages.

To build a flexible staffing model, a healthcare facility might employ:

  • Travel nurses
  • Per diem nurses
  • International nurses
  • Internal float pool nurses
  • External float pool nurses

These professionals allow healthcare organizations to smoothly cover daily variability in demand. Models may utilize part-time, full-time, or PRN employees. The binding element is that the staffing is not static or fixed. Levels can scale up or down as patient demand changes.

Nurses working flexible contracts supplement regular staff during peak census needs, prolonged leaves, or sudden call-outs. Hiring contingent labor reduces the reliance on excessive overtime or staffers working longer shifts, leading to fatigue and poor patient care. It strategically builds flexibility into an organization’s workforce scalability by leveraging a mix of core, flexible, and contingent staff.

Common Drivers of Flexible Staffing Needs

So, what instigates a healthcare facility’s need for flexible staffing solutions rather than purely relying on core full-time nurses? There are a few common factors:

  • Seasonal patient volume spikes: Flu season often stresses staff capacity. Elective surgeries like joint replacements cluster in summer when people are more mobile. Holiday patient census levels also swell and fall. All of these spikes (and more) create a need for flex staffing.
  • Unplanned call-outs or walk-outs: Nurses calling out sick or quitting without notice create sudden gaps needing rapid coverage.
  • Vacations and planned absences: Core staff accruing PTO intermittently strains units with missing team members. Longer leaves of absence also need backfilling.
  • Growing service lines: Orienting new nurses takes time. Smoothly transitioning newly launched service lines or units means temporarily supplementing core staff.
  • Unknown patient surges: New virus outbreaks like COVID-19 intensify patient loads and the severity of illnesses, requiring more hands-on care per person.

Flexible staffing solves temporary periods of inflated demand and gaps in care teams when permanent staffers are unavailable. It smooths bumps in the road through easy scalability.

Benefits of Building A Flexible Workforce

Implementing flexible staffing strategies has advantages for both healthcare facilities and nurses:

Facilities Benefits

  • Controls labor cost: Contingent staff without benefits costs less than overtime with permanent nurses. It also prevents investing in and then downsizing more full-time roles later.
  • Appeals to nurse managers: Staffing flexibility prevents shortages, allowing adherence to safe nurse-patient ratios, which creates stability in units.
  • Improves workforce stability via better retention: Reducing burnout improves retention of current nurses. Flexibility and mobility attract new nurses.

Nursing Staff Benefits

  • Prevents nurse burnout: Flexibility, mobility, higher pay, and no excessive OT provides better work-life balance
  • Provides scheduling flexibility: Nurses wanting less than full-time hours or intermittent gigs have options.
  • Increases job satisfaction and culture: Flex staffing nurtures staff with a motivating environment where nurses feel valued.
  • Gives nurses control over assignments: Options like float pools allow nurses to pursue specialties of interest.

For example, nurses needing time off for family or education can reduce hours through per diem shifts without fully resigning. Plus, float pools allow the pursuit of new skills. Specialty teams facilitate ramping up new units or initiatives. Models like internal agencies let nurses pick longer contracts.

External agency networks offer peak variety and pay. The bottom line is role flexibility empowers nurses, which boosts retention. The formula is simple: Happy nurses = better patient care.

Health Carousel’s Flexible Workforce Solutions

As an end-to-end flexible workforce partner, Health Carousel provides healthcare organizations with the technology, talent access, and insights required to build comprehensive contingent staffing strategies interwoven with existing headcount roles. Our solutions include:

  • Total contingent workforce management
  • Analytics predicting staffing needs
  • Customized staffing model recommendations
  • Staffing dashboard with real-time reporting
  • Access to an extensive network of clinician talent
  • Ongoing support across the engagement

Rather than fragmented stopgap answers, Health Carousel delivers an integrated solution so healthcare facilities can nimbly scale their workforce to the needs of each moment. Our cutting-edge analytics platforms allow data-driven decision-making using hard insights versus hunches. We can customize any major flexible staffing model, from travel nurses to float pools and more, to fit facilities' needs. Our talent network provides immediate access to top-quality clinicians.

Common Flexible Staffing Models

There are countless varieties of contingent labor models Health Carousel may recommend when partnering with healthcare organizations to build master flexible workforce management systems. Some common options include:

Internal Staffing Models

  • Unit Registries: Supplement core unit staff by maintaining a unit-specific list of internal PRN nurses who fill empty shifts as needed. Nurses indicate their on-call availability. This model is low complexity and low cost.
  • Float Pools: An elastic team of nurses staffed at levels allowing floating across different units wherever needs arise. Fulfills broad fluctuating demand. Members may be FT, PT, or PRN.
  • Specialty Resource Teams: A small team focused on targeted short-term needs like launching new specialties and piloting new care models. This model smooths transitions.

External Staffing Models

An external agency is a great option for facilities needing to expand skillsets or fill specific gaps. In this model, your facility contracts with an outside travel nurse agency network to access a wide geographic range of per diem, travel, and nurse specialty flexibility. The agency handles hiring, contracts, and other details.

Customizing the Mix

Constructing a flexible workforce comprises blending the appropriate labor models in proportions fitting current objectives and constraints. With Health Carousel, staffing combinations get precisely customized for the organization rather than one-size-fits-all. The mix evolves as your facility's goals change.

For example, a hospital expanding its stroke specialty service line by rolling out new TeleStroke capabilities may need a Specialty Resource Team briefly while orienting existing nurses to new protocols. The flexible team seamlessly covers staffing gaps during the transition and then dissolves when normal operations stabilize.

Every organization’s journey is unique. With Health Carousel’s guidance, customizing the flexible workforce mix is straightforward.

Read: Learn More about Workforce Planning in Healthcare as Demonstrated by Case Studies

Why Health Carousel

Health Carousel delivers end-to-end flexible workforce management. We combine cloud-based analytics of staffing needs with extensive access to premier nursing talent across all non-permanent staffing models. Our experienced clinical leadership delivers custom recommendations based on data and real-world wisdom. Smoothly integrating contingent labor supply through a single-source partner like Health Carousel provides healthcare facilities:

  • Improved nurse-to-patient ratios
  • Controlled talent acquisition costs
  • Reduced time burden recruiting niche skill sets
  • Increased speed & agility responding to variability
  • Enhanced risk management
  • Improved retention leveraging happier nurses
  • Ultimately, better patient outcomes

Request staffing support from Health Carousel today to get started. Our flexible workforce solutions can empower your organization to thrive amid ongoing challenges in the healthcare industry so that you can focus on delivering quality patient care.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a flexible staffing model?

A flexible staffing model is a strategic approach that enables organizations to adapt their workforce based on the changing needs of their business and the fluctuating demands of the market. It incorporates a mix of permanent, part-time, and temporary employees. This allows your organization to scale its labor force up or down efficiently without the constraints of a fixed staffing structure, ensuring both cost-effectiveness and agility in responding to business requirements.

What are staffing models in healthcare?

Staffing models in healthcare refer to the various frameworks used to determine the appropriate number and mix of healthcare professionals required to meet patient care needs effectively and efficiently. These models consider factors such as patient volume, case complexity, the scope of practice, and healthcare delivery settings to ensure sufficient staffing to provide high-quality, safe patient care while optimizing resources. Staffing models vary across different healthcare environments, including hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities, and are pivotal for planning, budgeting, and improving patient outcomes.

What is the workforce planning process in healthcare?

The workforce planning process in healthcare involves systematically assessing current workforce capabilities and future needs to ensure the right number of healthcare professionals with the necessary skills are available to meet the demands of patient care and service delivery. This strategic process encompasses analyzing workforce demographics, projecting patient care needs, identifying skill gaps, and developing action plans to recruit, retain, and train healthcare staff.

About Health Carousel

Health Carousel is committed to partnering with world-class healthcare facilities across the country, providing rewarding assignments for Registered Nurses and Allied Health Professionals, and attracting the best internal talent at all career levels.