Staff recruitment and retention will remain top of mind for ASC leaders in the coming months as the effects of a nationwide nursing shortage and spike in COVID-19 infection rates fueled by the delta variant continue to plague the healthcare industry.
Many nurses have become exhausted or burnt out over the past 18 months, keeping up with new protocols, worrying about potential COVID-19 transmission and performing duties that are outside the scope of their typical responsibilities. Other nurses who were furloughed during the pandemic have yet to return to work.
"As we have started operations toward a more-normal mode, we are certainly struggling with getting up to normal staffing and keeping the trained staff we currently have," Linda Deeming, BSN, RN, director of Salud Family Health Centers in Fort Lupton, Colo., told Becker's. "The budget is also a concern; it's certainly a balancing act that is not easy at this point."
In certain parts of the country, a fourth COVID-19 wave has hit. Health systems are delaying nonemergent surgeries and redeploying staff from their ASCs to hospitals to address the influx of coronavirus patients.
The pandemic has also disrupted ASC growth in terms of staffing, where costs have been driven through the roof over the last 18 months.
"We are a cardiac-only facility, and our staff are highly specialized. COVID-19 has created travel opportunities for these employees at unheard-of prices," said Brock Kreienbrink, MSN, RN, administrator and director of nursing for the Outpatient Surgery Center of Central Florida in Wildwood. "The combination of staff leaving our market at significant levels and the increase of ASCs/catheterization labs/hospitals in our market is draining the staffing pool — which is causing major inflation in the staffing cost to compete for these employees."
On top of this, ASCs will likely face stiffer competition to recruit and retain staff as consolidation continues to take hold across the healthcare industry. Strategic partnerships have seen large management companies having their own staffing registry to flex up and down as needed, according to Lisa Cooper, CEO of Santa Cruz (Calif.) Surgery Center.
"Standalone centers with fewer than 30 employees will need to be resourceful to remain relevant and attractive to the continued shrinking market of experienced operating room nurses and scrub techs," Ms. Cooper said. "Going forward, having busy surgeons will not be the key driver — stability with staffing and ongoing training programs will be critical to future success."
One fear is that the U.S. may not educate enough nurses to keep up with the increasing demand, and there is a sizable portion of nurses nearing retirement age in the coming years.
The American Nurses Association projects that more than 500,000 nurses plan to retire by 2022, with more than 1.1 million new RNs needed to supplement retirees and expansion, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We can only hope that young people growing up see how nurses change the world and they want to be part of the spectacular and amazing team," said Christina Holloway, administrator of ASC Bala Cynwyd (Pa.).