The nursing shortage in the United States has been a topic in the healthcare industry for several years. Further strained by COVID-19, a decreasing population of nurses is also nearing retirement age. Additionally, burnout is on the rise, leading healthcare facilities to take a serious look at their management practices in search of ways to improve nurse retention rates while providing quality care to patients.
Nurse staffing agencies have stepped in as a possible solution to staffing issues and burnout. Skilled nursing facilities relied on staffing agencies during the pandemic, and the trend is likely to continue as facilities work to improve conditions for nurses working long, demanding shifts. Yet as these facilities begin working with agencies, they may experience challenges unique to managing agency nurses.
Fortunately, though workforce management for agency nurses might look different than for staff nurses, there are ways to maximize efficiency.
The Differences Between Agency and Staff Nurses
To manage agency nurses effectively, it's essential to consider the differences between them and the traditional staff at your healthcare facility. The differences begin with which company hires each type of nurse.
Long-term care and assisted living facilities directly hire staff nurses, usually for full-time hours and a yearly salary. Nurse management may require staff nurses to work more hours per week, and there is less flexibility in scheduling. Staff nurses handle most daily nursing operations, including patient care and administrative tasks.
Agency nurses, however, work for professional nurse staffing agencies. These companies recruit, screen, and hire nurses themselves, cutting out the healthcare facility's responsibility to find a qualified candidate for an open position. Staffing agencies also get to know nurses' qualifications, skills, and personalities to match them with an opening that fits both the nurse and the facility. There are fewer agency nurses at a facility since the facility hires them for an unmet need.
Several essential characteristics of agency nurse work include:
- Short-term contracts with a facility to meet a temporary need
- Greater shift flexibility and bargaining power
- No PTO, vacation days, or other benefits packages, though the agency may provide health insurance
If your skilled nursing facility works with a staffing agency — or several — you may be looking for ways to optimize your facility's workflow and make the best use of your staff. With high rates of nurse turnover, you need tools to manage agency nurses and staff alike to prevent burnout and increase retention.
The Unique Elements of Managing Agency Nurses
Agency nurses are a viable option for supplementing any healthcare facility's full-time staff during periods of understaffing or higher patient volume. Temporary nurses are just as educated as staff nurses and can provide comparable care. However, the unique situation of an agency nurse requires an understanding of the differences between agency and staff nurses, including scheduling, pay, and compliance.
Staff scheduling is a fundamental aspect of efficient workforce management. Skilled nursing and long-term care facilities depend on hourly and shift workers to ensure they provide each patient with adequate care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Effective scheduling significantly improves the procedures and outcomes in a long-term care facility. One study found that patients on understaffed shifts were more likely to develop healthcare-associated infections.
The federal government provides staffing requirements for long-term care facilities to facilitate patient care. Yet, even with sufficient staffing, it is still vital to fill open shifts quickly and strategically to prevent burnout and improve patient outcomes. Per diem nurses can pick up the slack when staff nurses need to take a day off or are overworked, relieving their fatigue. Agency nurses can also help prevent burnout in your full-time staff by contributing to a better nurse-to-patient ratio during periods of higher patient volume.
Workforce management for agency nurses requires a different consideration for payroll. Because agency nurses work hourly, they do not receive paid time off. If they are absent for a shift, they will not receive payment for that time. While healthcare facilities need to manage their staff's benefits through the payroll system, there is no need for benefits management with agency nurses. Instead, the agency that employs the temporary nurse will provide their stipend for living arrangements and health insurance, if applicable.
Nurse managers and HR at a facility will need to handle special hours for agency nurses, who have increased scheduling flexibility. To make paying all types of employees more straightforward, a facility can benefit from a payroll system that manages multiple payment schedules. Eliminating manual payroll processes can reduce errors and ensure all agency and staff nurses receive accurate and timely payments.
Tracking time and attendance is essential for managing payroll. However, real-time attendance tracking is less prevalent in long-term care and skilled nursing facilities. Administrators can be left scrambling to fill scheduling gaps with other staff workers or agency nurses when a staff nurse is absent or requests last-minute PTO.
Smartlinx's time tracking and attendance software can help nurse managers track punch-ins for each employee. Managers can access live attendance on one color-coded screen and receive real-time alerts of scheduling gaps. With attendance software, you can easily enforce policies across your staff and instantly view where more employees are needed. Attendance software can also provide quick recommendations for filling open shifts based on seniority and help prevent overtime and buddy punching.
Federal and state governments require healthcare facilities to comply with many regulations and laws. An automated compliance system can make compliance easier. Some laws apply across healthcare fields, like the Affordable Care Act (ACA). ACA compliance software can take the stress off gathering employee information and conducting annual reports.
Long-term care facilities must also collect information through a payroll-based journal (PBJ) to verify their quality of care. Automated PBJ software can simplify gathering information like contractor hours and overnight shifts. PBJ software eliminates the need for manual reporting, making it easier for managers to handle a range of employee data.
How to Manage Agency Nurses
Partnering with agency nurses can take considerable pressure off of staff nurses, managers, and other administrative officials. How does workforce management work for agency nurses? Here are a few agency nurse management tips to help you run operations more smoothly:
Use a Comprehensive Platform
Streamlining your daily operations through workforce management software is an effective solution for managing agency nurses. Skilled nursing facility operators must prioritize scheduling, compliance, and attendance tracking while maintaining a high level of patient care. Outdated and difficult-to-use software systems can make it challenging to keep employee information organized and accessible.
A workforce management solution can keep you updated in real-time about schedules and attendance, so you can make the right decisions to keep productivity high. A comprehensive platform can help your skilled nursing facility automate the following tasks:
- Limiting overtime and accommodating nursing schedule preferences when possible
- Finding the most qualified staff to fill shifts
- Communicating with employees about updated shifts
- Handling payroll
- Tracking time and attendance
- Managing compliance regulations
If your facility utilizes agency nurses from multiple organizations, it could become difficult to organize their duties along with those of your staff. Without adequate planning, you could deal with unnecessary scheduling conflicts like double-booking. Failing to plan could also lead to poor communication, resulting in ineffective time management.
To prevent these situations, implement a planning schedule into your routine. It could be helpful to take time every day, week, and month to plan when staff can work on specific tasks. You can also coordinate tasks by agency or nurse to stay extra organized.
Manage Your Agency Staff Effectively With SmartLinx
Agency nurses bring unique management challenges and benefits, but you can streamline your processes and make management simpler with the right tools and planning. At SmartLinx, we understand the leadership challenges long-term care facilities face. We provide a full suite of workforce management software products to help you streamline your processes and optimize workflow.
With our management solutions, you can solve scheduling issues, view real-time attendance, and do more for your facility. Learn more about our solutions by requesting a demo today!