Contingent Staffing’s Place in Healthcare HR’s Strategy
For healthcare organizations facing a hyper-competitive market and an aging customer base that requires more care, contingent staffing, also known as supplemental staffing, can play an integral role in HR's strategic planning process as a means to acquire on-demand, qualified healthcare talent.
Healthcare organizations are increasingly relying on a flexible workforce to keep fully staffed during busy times or to compensate for seasonal labor fluctuations. The American Staffing Association says nearly 10 percent of the roughly 16 million temporary and contract employees in the U.S. work in the healthcare sector. The positions range from per-diem and daily gigs to longer-term contracts across nearly all types of medical organizations.
“Really the need is across the board,” says Caroline Moore, owner of BrightStar Care, a home health and medical staffing company in Boise, Idaho.
Growing Worker Shortages
Healthcare is expected to be among the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S. economy through 2026, accounting for about 20 percent of all new jobs, according to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. An additional 1.3 million home health professionals alone are expected to be needed over the next decade to service the nation’s aging population.
“With the influx of home care needs, our nation faces a caregiver shortage crisis,” says Tom DiMarco, president of Salo Inc. and the largest franchisee for Interim HealthCare. “There are currently not enough nurses, home aides, physical therapists, occupational therapists and medical social workers to support those who want to age in place.
He says he expects the labor shortages to become more severe in the coming years. “The pool of people is becoming more competitive when it comes to home health agencies and personal care workers,” DiMarco says. “The economy has created higher-paying jobs outside of healthcare.”
Moore says high-demand areas for contingent healthcare workers include hospice companies and assisted-living and memory-care facilities, all of which often are looking for healthcare professionals with specialized skills. The need for temporary certified nursing assistants is also increasing, she says. “It’s a difficult group of individuals to both recruit and retain,” she says.
Christina Boudreaux, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based recruiter who has worked extensively with the healthcare industry, says that in her experience working with medical organizations in the South, nursing, physical therapy and occupational therapy positions are prime candidates for contingent workers. “They are very competitive markets with limited talent,” she says.
Plan Ahead for Contingent Workers
Although unanticipated labor needs are common, HR leaders in healthcare need to anticipate their contingent workforce needs ahead of time to maximize their effectiveness. For example, Moore says that although her agency rarely provides contingent labor directly to hospitals because they have their own reserve pool of floating workers, the most common indicator of temporary labor demand is still the number of patients at hospitals in her region.
“It kind of trickles down from there,” she says. “When we see the census in the hospitals go up, then the discharges go up to rehab, the discharges go up to assisted living, the discharges go up to hospice and home services.”
To maximize the effectiveness of a contingent workforce, Moore says, organizations should have a clear plan for how they are going to integrate the temporary employees into their regular operations.
“I think sometimes there’s a lack of communication when you bring those temporary workers in, and that makes them less effective,” she says. “You also have to manage expectations, because they don’t know your entire system. Having clear communication and good policies around how you’re going to work those temporary employees in is very important.”
Boudreaux says temporary healthcare workers often shift from one contract to another, which can compound the difficulties of the onboarding process. “Getting people acclimated to your organization will definitely be a factor when leveraging those individuals,” she says.
Know Who You’re Hiring
PreCheck’s Vice President of Compliance, Vu Do, says as contingent workers take on a larger role in the industry, it’s important that healthcare employers understand the types of background checks their staffing firms are running. She says it’s simply not enough assurance to be told that a staffing firm is screening their workers.
“Relying solely on a general attestation creates considerable risk for healthcare employers because they have no knowledge of the parameters, depth or scope of the staffing firm’s screening,” she says.
Do says employers need to either review the details of the staffing firm’s screening package or outline their expectations on the type of screening that it requires for employees placed in its facilities. Companies in some situations can also contractually obligate a staffing firm to use the employer’s own screening provider.
When it comes to using employment background checks, it’s important for the two parties to understand their legal obligations under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, Do says. Specifically, if the employer expects to review the reports, there are consent, disclosure and adverse action responsibilities to consider and establish between the parties, she says.
“For example, does the consent form allow the staffing firm to share the screening result with its clients?” she says.
As the profile of workers at your organization changes, keep a careful eye on how your screening process will need to evolve, too.