State of the Current Post-Acute Staffing Crisis: What Can We Do?

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Hospital execs discussing staffing crisis

Post-acute staffing is facing a significant challenge, and its ripple effects are impacting the industry, leading to a nationwide struggle to find available beds. Currently, a glaring 190,000 workers are needed to reach stabilization, but full job recovery isn’t anticipated until late 2026. What’s causing this backlog? 

Staffing challenges persist 

Despite an increasing demand for post-acute workers, the industry still currently remains below pre-pandemic levels. Widespread burnout and turnover among clinicians continue to be an issue, as low pay, widening staff-to-patient ratios, and negative working experiences from the pandemic have caused the clinical workforce to view the industry less favorably.  

Additionally, patients today are now an average of 6% more acute than they were in 2019, making their care needs more complex. Altogether, this has generated a perfect storm of staffing challenges contributing to the current healthcare workforce crisis.  

New post-acute patients struggle to find beds 

Lack of workers at post-acute sites means hospitals are also finding it more difficult to place patients in the face of rising demand for post-acute care. As of 2023, referral volume to skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies has increased about 11%, yet rejection rates have hit an all-time high of 76%—with patients struggling to find a facility that can take them in. This is being experienced nationwide. In Nebraska, some patients are waiting up to 6 months to be admitted, while in Hawaii, hundreds of patients ready for transfer end up waiting in hospital beds.   

What can healthcare organizations do?  

1. Offer Comprehensive Benefits and Incentives 

Consider offering signing bonuses, paid sick leave, relocation assistance, tuition reimbursement, more training opportunities, and flexible work arrangements to entice top talent. Facilities may hesitate at or feel disincentivized to invest in these benefits, but it can lead to significant savings in the future by keeping workers on board.  

In an article from Healthcare Dive, Bianca Frogner, director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Washington, says employees are being enticed by higher paying jobs in other industries, a large factor in this downward trend in employment. “You can turn on the TV and watch a commercial from Amazon that advertises all these additional benefits, other than pay, that they offer their workers. I don’t know the last time I’ve seen—or if I’ve ever seen—a hospital or nursing home advertise those same things.” 

Comprehensive benefits and incentives are baseline motivation for staff to care for a complex post-acute population and help keep staff from turning their attention to out-of-industry employers wooing with compensation bumps. 

 2. Align with a healthcare talent ecosystem 

Different partnerships are appropriate for different situations, but are most effective when they lead collaboratively, aligning on shared goals and actively working towards them. Organizations are investing their time and effort into recruitment and retention, hiring contingent labor to fill workforce gaps, or offering overtime to help retain employees. These are useful short-term solutions, but they don’t address the root cause of shortages.  

A healthcare talent ecosystem is an emerging staffing model that integrates services, strategy, and technology to provide more talent channels, insights, and control. Unlike standard staffing, it focuses on long-term success by serving as a labor supplier and strategic advisor. Using data, it forecasts staffing needs, suggests candidates, and tackles the underlying issues causing talent shortages. Its goal: achieving a balance between permanent and flexible staff to cut burnout, boost savings, and take a proactive approach to talent management.  

 3. Redesign or restructure care team models 

To help alleviate clinician burnout, consider optimizing your existing teams, restructuring to ensure your clinicians are practicing at their fullest potential, and only adding additional roles as necessary. For example, at Country Meadows Retirement Community in Pennsylvania, LPNs faced overwhelming medication and administration duties due to a complex patient population. To address this, the organization introduced specialized staff for medication management and documentation, allowing the LPNs to dedicate more time to crucial patient care tasks, like monitoring symptoms and providing education. This slight shift reduced their workloads and enabled them to practice at top-of-license.  

The current post-acute staffing crisis demands a comprehensive approach to alleviate strain on the healthcare system. Implementing strategies that prioritize the well-being of healthcare workers while addressing this critical shortage is paramount. Only our collective efforts can pave the way toward resolving the crisis, ensuring better patient care and sustainability within the industry. 

Tara Drosset is a Blog Author for Medical Solutions.