New research by scientists at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health has found that undetected cases, many of which were likely not severely symptomatic, were largely responsible for the rapid spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Simply put, the virus can rapidly spread at a moment’s notice and without much detection. The same can be said for staffing challenges as the U.S. health system is strained from the pandemic, with many factors that can contribute to shortages of needed healthcare workers going undetected.
As the U.S. looks for lessons learned from the outbreak in China, here are five potential blind spots that exacerbate the need for hospitals to prepare for shortages of clinicians or reallocate resources to help ease the strain:
- Aging physicians. In a recent webinar sponsored by the American College of Cardiology, Chinese doctors shared several lessons learned during the height of the pandemic. One of the suggestions offered was to follow similar guidelines to those in China whereby no doctors over the age of 60 are allowed to go to the front lines, using only junior physicians to take care of COVID-19 patients.
Hospitals and facilities may want to reallocate older physicians, particularly ones with compromised immunity, or consider bringing in a locums tenens to backfill older physicians. In addition, increasing nurse practitioners or other advanced practice professionals to offload much of the caretaking for COVID-19 patients is another strategy to consider.
- Shortage of childcare. As more and more schools close due to COVID-19, hospitals and facilities across the country are struggling to figure out how to help their medical staff who are also parents. Many clinicians have been left with no childcare as daycares close and many don’t have the resources to keep paying if school closures stretch out longer. Historically, many clinicians would simply leave their children with grandparents, but as they are among the highest risk group for COVID-19, this isn’t advisable.
Administrators will need to consider how the issue of childcare may impact their staffing resources, and plan to bring in additional temporary staff such as, travel, locums or per diem workers.
- Infection among providers. Healthcare providers on the front lines of the pandemic face high risks to their own personal health. In fact, during the early months of the 2003 SARS epidemic, 5% of doctors, 4% of nurses and 8% of healthcare assistants had contracted the disease. Due to these and other factors, the availability of healthcare workers tends to decrease during pandemics. Consider the U.S. federal government estimates that at the height of the influenza pandemic, 40% of healthcare workers can be expected to be absent due to competing caregiving needs, illness, fear of contracting the disease and the ongoing talent shortage in the industry.
- Occupational health considerations. The protection of health workers is one of the priorities for the response to the pandemic, and occupational health services do and will continue to play a vital role in protecting health workers and ensuring the business continuity of patient care delivery. Shortages of key medical supplies may also put even further strain on occupational health physicians and providers.
- The great unknown. With varying models projecting different timeframes and scope of impact of COVID-19, facilities and providers are working with an understanding that the impact could be felt for weeks or even months. As providers face longer working hours, fatigue, stress and burnout the longer the pandemic exists, reinforcements will be required to step in and relieve overstretched providers. Facilities will need to plan for immediate needs, while also anticipating additional waves of needs to come.
We’re here to help.
As we stand side by side our valued healthcare customers in addressing the COVID-19 outbreak, we are committed to helping you attain the staff you need to protect the care and health of patients and providers today and in the future.
Because we have built a unique, proven total talent management solution, we are prepared to meet any surge staffing emergency needs and demands being placed on you due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Leveraging our Managed Staffing Programs (MSPs) and our fellow travel, locums, allied, nursing, and search brands, we have ramped up our supply of clinicians to support your needs.
In addition to our more than 300 aligned vendor partners nationally and locally, we have also engaged our rapid response partner to support large-scale, time-sensitive deployments of healthcare providers. Through our total talent management model, we have short-term, contingent and long-term staffing solutions available to you.
Contact us today.