A Simple Way to Better Predict Nurse Staffing Shortages

July 28, 2023
 minute read
 minute audio

What happens to a nursing unit in crisis that is already short on staff — and then a nurse takes PTO or goes on leave?

Situations like this can lead to a decline in quality measures, workflow disruption and patient dissatisfaction, as well as low morale among employees and increase in turnover rate.

“There’s pretty much a cascade of events that happens almost like clockwork,” said Earl Dalton, Health Carousel’s Chief Nursing Officer. “I see this play out literally every single day around the country.”

One simple strategy can help facilities better prepare for staffing shortages, Dalton said: Plan based on your unit’s operational vacancies, rather than only true vacancies.

True vacancy looks at simply how many positions exist in the budget vs. how many of those positions are currently vacant.

However, operational vacancy factors in not only vacant positions, but also the employees who are unavailable to work a shift for various reasons — like vacation, maternity leave or training.

“If you can predict yet another road bump that’s coming into your future, you can be ahead of filling that with temporary labor or, if it makes sense, full-time labor,” Dalton said.

Dalton discussed predictive staffing models on a recent episode of The Workforce Solution podcast. Listen to the episode now on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher and iHeartRadio.

How to calculate true vacancy vs. operational vacancy

True vacancy looks at simply how many vacant positions you have on your staff.

For example: If your unit has 10 nurse positions in its budget, and only 8 nurses currently on staff, then the unit has 2 vacant positions, or a 20 percent true vacancy.

Operational vacancy dives a layer deeper. It factors in the people who are on staff but not operationally available to work shifts.

Here’s how to calculate operational vacancy to better predict nursing shortages:

  1. Review historical staffing data for the last 3 years.
  2. Review the total use of FMLA by month and determine the unit’s average FMLA usage by month.
  3. Repeat for average PTO usage by month.
  4. Repeat for orientees who are on staff, but still in training and not working at full capacity.
  5. Now add the unit’s true vacancy + average FMLA + average PTO + average trainees, subtract any contract labor = operational vacancy.

Dalton recommends reviewing these numbers at least 3 months ahead.

A quarterly review is also the time to take note of any known upcoming absences — like a nurse who will be on maternity leave, on vacation or recovering from surgery.

Why a predictive staffing model helps with nursing shortages

A predictive staffing model creates time to consider solutions like a temporary travel nurse or a permanent position, Dalton said.

“Rather than be in that situation and raise the red flag for help, you can be ahead of the shortage and have someone scheduled to come in, simply by staying on top of it,” Dalton said.

Benefits of predictive staffing models include:

  • Improves staff planning and scheduling
  • Allows hospitals to staff to patient need
  • Ability to run “what if” scenarios

About Health Carousel

Health Carousel is ranked among the top healthcare staffing agencies in the nation.

Unlike other travel staffing organizations, we can rapidly scale marketing and recruiting efforts to meet critical needs and offer flexible start dates, shifts and assignment lengths.

Our experienced, in-house clinical team serves as an extension of your team to assess, interview and onboard top talent. See our Health Carousel Travel Network for more about travel nurses, or contact us below.

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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.