By Meredith Bryan
The pandemic changed the nature of work as we know it, with employers getting creative in order to attract and retain talent while offering maximum flexibility. The healthcare industry—still reeling from its front-line response to the COVID-19 crisis—has endured particularly challenging labor shortages and skyrocketing costs, which it is now meeting with creative solutions of its own.
The nursing profession was hard-hit by the realities of the pandemic, which drove many workers to burnout even as it introduced others to a more flexible and appealing schedule of high-paid, short-term “travel” assignments. But a nursing labor crunch had been building even before 2020, as workers retired and new grads increasingly chose non-traditional career paths outside acute healthcare settings. COVID-19 just “exacerbated problems,” says Maria Luoni, President of RightSourcing by Magnit, an integrated platform that helps healthcare organizations manage and improve their contingent workforce programs. Labor costs mushroomed, plunging hospital systems into financial peril even as they struggled to meet the demand for care.
According to data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the problem continues post-pandemic, with a shortage of registered nurses projected to spread across the U.S. through 2030.
“If you talk to any healthcare system in the country right now, top of mind for them is talent and cost,” says Luoni.
To meet these formidable challenges, forward-thinking hospital systems are leveraging innovative solutions to help them attract and retain talent while maintaining their standard of care. They’re strategically increasing their flexible workforces: perhaps most notably, by direct-sourcing internal float pools to reduce reliance on expensive “travel” nurses. But they’re also recruiting international workers. They’re using shift and “per diem” workers — registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who work on an as-needed basis, providing healthcare facilities temporary staffing support.
“There’s no magic wand,” says Luoni, who helps clients leverage “all pools of available internal and external talent and innovative solutions to bring them in,” she explains.
You also need an integrated platform to effectively hire and manage these internal and external talent pools. Here are four best practices:
1. Lean into the internal float pool.
In 2023, Luoni is seeing “widespread interest” among her clients in sourcing and maintaining an internal float pool of nurses—in some healthcare systems, they number upwards of 500—who are willing to travel to different short-term assignments within the network for slightly higher pay. Employers leverage their brands to attract these nurses without the markup of a staffing agency, achieving significant cost savings.
While float pools aren’t new, they were difficult to build during the pandemic, when the labor supply was stretched perilously thin and costs climbed higher than ever before, says Luoni. Only this year have healthcare systems finally been able to attract flexible FTEs back into the fold to ease their spending on staffing agencies, or external float pools.
Some travel nurses who worked for employers during the pandemic opt to stay and join internal float pools. Alumni and retirees can also join pools on a contract basis, increasing the system’s supply of proven nurses available to meet urgent needs.
Workers get more flexibility, which helps stave off burnout. But healthcare systems do, too—a win-win. “The hope is that providing these different models, whether it’s an internal float pool, direct-sourcing, travel nurses, or per diem, really gives the healthcare space some of that gig-like flexible feel that we see on the commercial side,” says Luoni.
2. Set the right pay rate.
Float pool nurses earn slightly more than traditional FTEs because of their willingness to travel. But employers must strategically compensate these flexible workers to ensure that their pay attracts nurses back into the healthcare system without making current FTEs feel disenfranchised (or send them clamoring en masse to join float pools themselves).
Innovative technologies like RightSourcing’s allows companies to access large volumes of cutting-edge pay data to determine the competitive rates that best align with their staffing goals.
3. Go global.
Healthcare systems recruiting international nurses from places like Japan, India, and the Philippines is not new—but again, it’s a tactic being leveraged increasingly strategically amid the post-COVID nursing crunch. International workers are brought in on two or three-year contracts, but their rate of conversion to FTEs is quite high, says Luoni, making them an especially attractive prospect to employers.
The drawback: Visa-processing takes time. But the healthcare industry is more open to long-term solutions as it grasps the imperative of tapping every available talent pool in the current labor environment.
4. Leverage technology.
Building and managing an internal float pool is much easier with an integrated platform like RightSourcing, which allows employers to curate and track a private talent network of alumni, retirees, and referred workers and release jobs to them first, before outsourcing to staffing suppliers. (Discover best practices for success.)
RightSourcing’s direct-sourcing technology even integrates with job boards to post openings to career sites.
And as a managed services provider (MSP), RightSourcing gives employers visibility into their workforce and current and future needs as well as managing and scheduling workers and suppliers, maintaining compliance and credentialing, tracking quality scores, analyzing hours worked to determine the optimal balance of traditional FTEs versus float pool workers, and more. (Read more: “The New Role for the MSP in Human Capital Management.”)
Bottom line: Healthcare systems can no longer rely on traditional staffing practices if they want to continue to provide the best possible care amid the labor shortages and financial challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. “In the tailwinds of COVID, these innovative solutions and different models to secure talent both internally and externally are going to be really interesting to watch,” says Luoni.