Healthcare merger and acquisition activity was 16.3% higher in 2014 than in 2013, and similar activity is projected for 2015[i]. The economic realities of the market today more often than not serve as the catalyst for a merger or consolidation. Controlling expenses is a top concern for most healthcare organizations, consolidation or not. However, when an organization consists of 5, 10, 15 or 20 different facilities and spans the entire continuum, deploying creative workforce management strategies have the best potential to make the greatest impact on cost controls.
One of these strategies is the use of centralized staffing. Sometimes called float pools or resource centers, the purpose of a centralized staffing system is to optimize internal labor resources across an entire organization. Premium labor expenses such as overtime and external contingent staffing resources can be expensive and costly to an organization’s bottom line. Through the use of central staffing, large organizations can better control labor costs, create more engaged employees and create a culture of shared governance.
Successful centralized staffing strategies all consist of several key characteristics. The first, and possibly the most important is the use of technology and data for staffing. For centralized staffing to work, scheduling managers need to have access to actionable data for every single employee. This would include skill sets, competencies, hours worked and availability. The only way to do this effectively is if the data is provided electronically, on a real-time basis. This is especially true if you are trying to schedule more than 100 employees, which is another necessary component of a successful central staffing system.
Traditional float pools tend to operate like a series of small puddles where units or departments can pull matching resources from a ‘puddle’ of 10-20 employees to fill scheduling gaps. A centralized staffing system should operate more like a community center, comprised of hundreds of cheerfully mobile and highly competent service-line nurses, all with varying skill levels. There should also be a healthy supply of SWAT nurses, or nurses who are brought in to work a crisis until things have stabilized. Once their job is done they can move on to the next unit and next crisis.
Successful central staffing programs have also done a great job at creating a sense of community. Something as simple as a weekly newsletter and updates will help create a sense of shared governance and pride among employees.
As organizations look for new and fresh strategies to optimize their workforce, central staffing is a trend that is quickly becoming commonplace. Merger or not, when an organization services the entire continuum of care, the cost-effective deployment of resources through strategies like centralized staffing presents the greatest potential to achieving financial and care quality goals.
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