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How to Plan for the Influx of PTO During the Holidays

The pressure most healthcare providers feel right now is intense. They must balance the demand for staff during a global pandemic where cases are skyrocketing with the need to provide valued employees the time off that they need to rest and recharge. With the holiday season looming, what is the answer to this dilemma?

Handling Healthcare Time off During COVID-19

The New York Times reported earlier this year that the cancellation and postponement of elective procedures ended up furloughing or laying off healthcare workers. Other hospitals asked their workers to take pay cuts to help balance budgets that relied heavily on non-emergency procedures. The irony was that many hospitals were pleading for help even as other facilities were eliminating their workforce.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic continued, healthcare workers became increasingly fatigued by the long hours and stressful working conditions. Today, we are facing the perfect storm of virus spikes, a shortage of workers to handle the caseload, and the holiday season, a time when many of us want to take time to be with our families.

The American Medical Association suggests some workload redistribution initiatives that could help ease the burden of hospitals and their workforce across the country, including:

  • Leveraging quarantined workers who are at home but asymptomatic to conduct telemedicine triage of sick patients.
  • Enhancing the skills of workers to enable them to work in the ICU
  • Allowing medical and nursing students to contribute according to their ability.

But these recommendations don’t address the demand for skilled providers at a time when the U.S. continues to break records for new cases. This latest surge is pushing hospitals to their limits. According to CNBC, by November 2020, most hospitals were above 100% staffing capacity to try to cope with the patient surge. This crisis has hit both urban and rural facilities hard, creating additional pressure on existing staff already feeling the effects of burnout from more than six months of dealing with COVID-19.

Obviously, seasonal staffing challenges are much greater during the COVID-19 crisis. Everyone will want time off, but the demand is so great, hospitals may have no choice but to decline vacation requests, assuming regulatory rules allow this response. It’s likely that some hospitals will be forced to pursue this strategy. Others will continue to offer overtime to as many workers as they can get their hands on. The problem with both of these strategies is that research has shown they lead to higher burnout and poorer patient care.

One of the best answers in these situations is healthcare staffing solutions to provide additional help during the holiday season. Many staffing agencies help hospitals both with additional staff during the regularly scheduled holiday season but temporary help during a crisis such as COVID-19. Many organizations turn to these solutions to allow their workforce the necessary time to relax with their families. This year, given the magnitude of the crisis we’re facing, these resources will be more needed than ever before.

Talk with the UHC Solutions team about how we can help you staff up during this crisis.


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