The worst of the staffing challenges is far from over for embattled hospice providers seeking fruitful recruitment and retention strategies in 2024.
Operators will continue to reckon with clinical capacity strains next year as hospices contend with rising demand from a swelling aging population, according to Nick Westfall, CEO of VITAS Healthcare, a subsidiary of Chemed Corp. (NYSE: CHE).
Burnout has pushed up turnover rates among hospice clinicians for several years running – even before the pandemic. Though many hospices have seen staffing volumes improve, competition for clinicians remains high and has providers grappling for ways to gain an edge.
Getting ahead of the curve of staffing needs will include having a supportive organizational culture – one that attracts and keeps a dedicated workforce, Westfall said.
“The overall staffing headwind the industry continues to face hasn’t changed for 2024,” Westfall told Hospice News. “What we’re finding is that people who want to be in the hospice industry are going to choose to go with the more stable, secure one that has a proven organizational culture. Being able to really elevate your internal culture … that’s what puts you in a really good place to have continuity of caring in every market, in every community in your service region. We’re all caring for more patients now than ever before, and that’s not losing momentum. That momentum can sometimes be a hurdle if you don’t proactively get in front of it by being the hospice of choice among clinicians – that’s just further friction.”
Resignations among health care workers are higher now than during the pandemic, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Roughly 588,000 of these professionals left the health care field in May, a jump from 519,000 recorded in April 2022.
Burnout is a leading reason that many clinicians turn away from the health care field. Those in hospital and health systems have left in rising numbers, with some moving to other industries or care settings.
These taxed clinicians can find a variety of opportunities in the different interdisciplinary roles of hospice care that they might not otherwise have in hospitals or health systems, according to St. Croix CEO Heath Bartness.
The hospice provider has seen a swath of physicians and physician assistants, nurse practitioners and other clinicians come onto their workforce who have sought less care-intensive roles, Bartness said. Some have taken on positions in quality assurance, others have sought leadership and management roles, he mentioned.
The next few years will require hospices to focus on ways they can tailor employee roles and responsibilities around the evolving needs and priorities of their workforce, Bartness stated. Being adaptive and innovative will be a “true lever” in hospices’ ability to recruit and retain their biggest “sole asset” of caregivers, he said.
“Hospice requires the psychosocial, physical and spiritual components of care. You can only accomplish that by having unity of your people in interdisciplinary teams and ensuring their needs are being met,” Bartness told Hospice News. “We’ve seen a number of clinicians from other fields who have been frustrated in their roles. It’s looking at their skill set and talent in a way that perhaps we haven’t historically and think outside of the box for additional opportunities for us to utilize these skilled caregivers and others as valuable members of the team. We need to be creative about the opportunities out there.”