HR leaders in healthcare convened in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 2 and 3 to discuss some of the biggest challenges their departments are facing. The conference, which was hosted by Worldwide Business Research, fell on the same week that more than 75,000 workers with health system Kaiser Permanente went on strike, citing concerns about staffing shortages and low wages.

Ongoing staffing challenges were top of mind for conference attendees, too. Shortages are particularly acute in areas like nursing: About 100,000 registered nurses quit during the pandemic, and another 800,000 plan to leave the workforce by 2027 due to stress, burnout, or retirement, according to one analysis.

Some HR leaders are prioritizing temporary or flex options and even gig work to fill these labor gaps. We’ve highlighted three approaches discussed at the conference.

Turning to gig work. To address staffing shortages, Mercy Health rolled out an app in 2022 that allows nurses to pick up shifts on demand, a move that the organization’s leadership has described as the “uberization” of the profession.

Nurses hired by the Mercy network can pick up work on a mobile app. The tool has a credentialing system that displays where they’re eligible to work, as well as licensures and competencies, according to Tracey Grimshaw, Mercy’s chief talent and organizational effectiveness officer.

Paying attention to the totality of candidates’ skill-sets, rather than just the requirements of their job descriptions, helped Mercy meet the labor demand, said Grimshaw. Mercy, which has 44 hospitals, is starting to think about work “in terms of tasks and skills…to be able to flow our people to where the work is rather than confining people within certain job descriptions,” she added.

While Grimshaw acknowledged the new system has been an adjustment for Mercy employees, she said she believes it will help boost talent attraction and retention by offering “flexibility that we know our current generations are looking for.”

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Creating an internal talent sourcing agency. Interest in travel nursing ticked up during the pandemic, due in part to higher wages and the increased flexibility afforded by this temporary employment scheme.

Matt Jensen, SVP of client services at RightSourcing, a healthcare workforce management platform, said he often hears from HR leaders who want to convert their traveling nurses into full-time staff.

Rather than putting resources toward transitioning this talent from temporary to permanent positions, RightSourcing has advised healthcare organizations to create their own internal travel agency pools to tap into this talent while saving money that would have otherwise gone to an external staffing partner.

“That way, you’re attracting to the nurse…who’s not ready to fall into a permanent position, but then you’re actually saving the organization money,” he said.

CommonSpirit Health (formerly part of Centura) recently launched a direct sourcing talent pool, a move that SVP and Chief People Officer Sebastien Girard estimated has saved the system “tens of millions.”

Investing in workforce training. The challenge of working in healthcare is that there is “infinite demand and very constrained supply,” said Mike LaRosa, division director of workforce development with Bayada Home Health Care.

LaRosa said Bayada’s clinical businesses that employ home health aides typically see 70% of their clinical staff turn over in a year. To hang onto this talent, he said Bayada has been working on connecting these low-wage workers with areas of the business that primarily employ skilled nurses so that they can access “mid-pay, mid-scale careers, with upward trajectory.”

Investing in this training has changed the nature of entry-level positions, LaRosa said. Clinicians who tap into the career pipeline tend to stay and pursue a nursing career, he added.


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