Jacob Kupietzky is chairman of Healthcare Transformationa company dedicated to providing experienced interim managers to hospitals.
Most organizations (healthcare and other) can be divided into two parts. The first piece is what you want to to do: The activities and services that you are passionate about and that (hopefully) generate income. The second piece is what you should do—the business you need do to keep the lights on. You may not be passionate about legal matters or accounts receivable, but you have to run your business and you can’t live without them.
But what if your business was more than just overhead? What if they were more than a necessity? What if your activities were a strategic advantage and competitive advantage? And what if you started with one of the largest operational expense line items for your organization: Human Resources?
You may think, but not all healthcare organizations already do that, since labor is more than 70% of operating costs† The answer is no. Whether due to the sheer complexity and volume of HR in healthcare, or the reality many healthcare organizations face prioritize clinical care over HRAt worst, HR is largely seen as a hurdle and overlooked at best.
I think it’s time for a change. It’s time to honor and prioritize the importance of HR in healthcare.
The challenge of human resources in healthcare
I have written extensively about the current medical personnel crisis. The American population is aging and needs more and more care. At the same time, the country faces a decades-long shortage of healthcare personnel – a shortage that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Talented healthcare professionals continue to leave the sector in droves amid concerns about personal safety, burnout and harassment of patients, families and the public. As one urologist in Tampa put it“We currently have a shortfall of about 25%, while our office is also busier than ever.”
And this crisis has caught the attention of healthcare leaders† In 2018, a American College of Healthcare Executives Survey cited financial challenges as the top concern among hospital administrators, followed by patient safety and government mandates. Their biggest concern only three years later? Staff shortages – and by a wide margin. While financial challenges are still secondary, 87% of hospital CEOs those who chose that option said they were particularly concerned about “increasing personnel and inventory costs.”
It’s not just a staffing crisis – it’s a crisis of low morale, low engagement and lack of strength organizational cultures† All of this can adversely affect the quality of patient care and the overall efficiency of healthcare organizations.
Human Resources as the heart of healthcare
Healthcare is about people. Physicians, nurses, support staff, and administrators all play critical roles in patient care. The quality of those relationships has a direct correlation with the quality of care as long as. And at the heart of those relationships is HR. From hiring, training and mentoring staff to creating a positive work environment that encourages people to do their best, the entire infrastructure, level of expertise and performance of hospitals and healthcare systems depends on HR.
The need for a paradigm shift
The healthcare sector is constantly evolving, which of course also means the role of HR. I believe the shift to more patient-centered and value-based care will only continue, and healthcare organizations need to adapt their staff, systems and procedures at the same pace, if not faster. Creating a self-sustaining, well-oiled talent pipeline where culture is a key driver starts with realizing that we need to invest time, effort, energy and resources in our HR operations.
Look to specialized HR professionals. Healthcare HR is complex and requires the expertise of trained HR professionals. (Disclosure: My company helps connect professionals in interim roles.) Ensure you hire people with the expertise needed to manage, influence, and influence behavior and cultural initiatives. Healthcare HR goes way beyond recruiting and hiring; all staff must have up-to-date knowledge of HR practices, systems, benefits, development and technology to improve engagement and patient satisfaction.
Redefining and expanding training and development. Consider the diversity of skill development, in-services, and continuing education to meet current needs and anticipate future needs. Then add complex shifts, schedules, the sandwich generation, and an aging workforce. In addition to more specialized and frequent training, you have to put more and more emphasis on training and supervising younger employees.
Invest in a non-traditional workforce composition and distribution. As healthcare systems continue to merge and develop partnerships, the impact and success of these relationships is likely to depend on the time, effort and energy invested in creating a shared culture. Increased investment in technology and engagement activities can help you connect with a geographically dispersed and virtual workforce.
Prioritize patient care and quality of service. HR supports much more than staff for nurses and doctors – they are responsible for staff turnover, low morale, absenteeism, cultural fit and more for all clinical and non-clinical staff. All of this translates into overall success for healthcare organizations.
To stabilize the crisis, healthcare leaders must respect the critical role HR plays in preparing organizations for future success. The right culture, education and people strategies implemented now can influence future success: forward-thinking organizations that: make HR an asset can build capacity, guarantee better results and improve satisfaction statistics.
Strategic thinking about business operations
The truth is that the healthcare workforce crisis is not a problem that will be solved in a few weeks or a few months. Even if we as a society can reach a point where an endemic coronavirus does not overwhelm the health care system, the fact remains that the need for health care far exceeds current resources. It comes back to people. You can have the highest bonuses, state-of-the-art facilities and state-of-the-art technology, but if you can’t attract or retain talent, or worse, the talent you have doesn’t demonstrate your culture, your ethos, your essence. Makes no difference.