The healthcare staffing industry changes every year and it’s our job as contributors to the healthcare landscape to stay prepared and adjust when those changes happen. At Wilderness Medical Staffing, we get the opportunity to engage with multiple clients and providers every day. Because of that, we often see issues, trends, challenges, and more that our industry is facing. As we begin to round out 2023, it’s time to begin your healthcare staffing planning for 2024. Here are a few things to consider for administrators and HR representatives of rural and remote facilities who staff locum tenens healthcare providers.
The Unique Challenges of Rural and Remote Healthcare Facilities
Whether you run a Critical Access Hospital in Montana or oversee the staffing for healthcare coverage at a mine in Interior Alaska, rural and remote healthcare facilities face unique challenges that your urban counterparts don’t have to contend with.
One of the biggest challenges is attracting and retaining healthcare providers. This can even be true for locum tenens providers, as there are fewer who want to work in rural and remote locations. Additionally, transportation to and from these areas can be tricky for providers, especially when inclement weather can get in the way.
Acknowledging and preparing for these challenges can help you to continually provide healthcare to your deserving community.
Align Your Budget with Your Staffing Needs
Your budget may be one of the biggest factors in your hiring decisions. If you’re considering using locum tenens, it may be a point of concern, as locum tenens can cost more than permanent providers. However, with proper planning and foresight, that’s not always the case.
Locum tenens providers can staff vacancies when full-time providers are off-site. They can allow for your community to have continuity of care. You don’t have to pay for health benefits for locum tenens providers. Depending on the skill sets of your locum tenens providers, they may be able to expand your service offerings. Plus, you may be able to arrange a locum to perm scenarios, where you can try a provider before they commit to coming on full-time.
It’s very possible to stay profitable with locum tenens staffing, but planning ahead is key to making it work for your facility and your bottom line.
You might have a set budget already going into 2024, but if you’re still working on number crunching, read on for additional considerations to make as you consider the costs of staffing planning.
Perform a Needs Assessment
Your facility needs for 2024 may be very different than what they were in 2023. You may be seeing fluctuations in your internal team, with providers retiring or moving out of the area. Your facility may be merging with another facility, causing a mix-up in the staffing structure. Maybe you’re the new CEO, coming from a different state, and you’re still working to get your feet under you. Whatever the situation, understanding and outlining what your exact needs are is a recommended place to start your planning, especially if you haven’t outlined your budget for the year yet.
Think through the needs you had over the last year or few years. Anticipate big changes that you know are coming down the pike in 2024. How will those dictate your staffing decisions? You may want to plan for the unknown taking into consideration having some temporary staffing plans in place for “just-in-case” scenarios. Then, if someone retires, a provider is on maternity leave, or they get sick and can’t work, you’ll still be ready.
We often work with facilities that may not have an urgent need for staffing, but that plan for the future. They talk to our team about needs that may arise and the types of providers they could need and work with our team to get a contract in place for their needs. Then, when they find themselves with a pending gap in coverage, we are ready to work with them to find the perfect provider for their facility.
Planning Internally for Future Needs
To help you identify your needs, planning internally with your existing providers can be beneficial.
We recommend working with your existing providers to set a timeline for time-off requests. Finding the right provider to work at a facility can be a process including coordinating available dates, travel logistics, and credentialing. If you have a policy in place for your internal team to submit time off requests at least a few months in advance, that will give your staffing agency time to get a temporary provider on-site during their time off.
Plan Further Ahead
We work with healthcare facilities that will sometimes plan staffing needs many months to over a year in advance. This model allows your agency a lot of time to find the right providers for your needs. It also is beneficial to the locum tenens providers because they can begin filling up their work calendar, giving them a sense of work security for months to years to come.
Keep in mind that you not only need to consider your schedule, but you need to realize that the locum tenens who you will work with also are trying to put together their work schedules. The further you plan, the more likelihood you’ll have of providers available for the dates that you need them to work. It’s always more difficult to find last-minute providers because most of the time, they already have assignments booked.
Plan For the Holidays
If you’re not quite ready to plan too far out, anticipating what coverage you’ll need for holidays can also be helpful when performing your needs assessment. Holidays are easy-to-identify dates throughout the year, so if you know you typically need coverage during that time, planning ahead and communicating those needs with your staffing agency can be helpful.
Consider Setting up a Rotating Schedule of Locum Providers
If you haven’t done so in the past, we highly recommend setting up rotating schedules for locum tenens providers. Often, providers will return to the same location over and over again. Not only does it help ease the burden of staffing shortages at the facility, but it creates consistency for the provider and provides better continuity of care for the patients. Providers often appreciate opportunities to return to facilities, assuming they are a good fit. Again, it provides potential work security for the locum tenens, but it also can make it easier on the healthcare facility if you don’t consistently retrain, re-credential, and reorient new providers.
Proactively thinking through and making considerations for this type of model is one we often recommend to the facilities that we work with. If you’ve never done this at your facility in the past, we wrote an entire article about how to build a successful locum tenens provider rotation.
Work Through Credentialing Protocols
Credentialing can be one of the biggest factors in knowing how quickly a provider can start working at your facility. Taking into consideration the time to get providers credentialed will also help with staffing planning. If you know it typically takes 2-3 weeks or even months for a new provider to complete credentialing, then adding that amount of time leading up to start dates is important.
So, not only will you want to account for how much time it can take the staffing agency you’re working with to find providers, but you also want to budget time for credentialing before they start their assignment. Typically, we recommend sending your staffing agency your request for providers with a minimum of a two to three-month lead time. This allows adequate time to find qualified providers, get them credentialed, and get travel booked so they can start their assignment.
If your facility allows for temporary or emergency credentialing, sometimes this timeline can be shortened to a few weeks.
If you need help with credentialing, read our article about how to get providers credentialed to work with you.
Create a Credentialed Pool of Providers
Additionally, if you know that credentialing could be the biggest hurdle in getting assignments started, you can work with your staffing agency to get a pool of providers credentialed before you have set dates for them to work. In this scenario, you have providers who are ready to work when you need them.
It’s helpful to “sell” the assignment to providers so they have outlined expectations of what working with you will look like. You’ll want to outline the typical length of assignment, job duties, what the community is like, housing details, etc. Then, when you have dates decided upon, or when needs come up as the year goes on, you know which providers you’ll work with, and you can work with your staffing agency to get them booked for assignments.
Understanding that getting through the credentialing process can take weeks to months, depending on the facility, if providers are already credentialed, they can sometimes be on assignment within a matter of days, depending on their availability and travel arrangements.
Prepare Providers Ahead of Assignments
If you’re welcoming a new provider to your location, we encourage you to communicate with providers (either through us or directly) to give them info about your community, the clinic, local weather, etc. If you can connect and create goodwill with providers before they arrive, it creates a positive and welcoming impression. (Learn more about how to welcome providers to your facility here.) We work with clients beforehand to collect information about your facility with the providers, but you’ll have the latest and best knowledge to share.
Don’t Forget About Housing and Transportation
We work with facilities to get the details of housing and transportation sorted out before an assignment begins, but it can make the process run smoother if you’ve put some forethought into what the housing and transportation situation might look like for providers.
For instance, you may lease an apartment, but the lease will expire partway through the year. Or maybe a house you own for providers needs some general upkeep maintenance, or cleaning to make the providers feel welcome. Perhaps you’re planning to work with additional locum tenens providers in the coming year and you need to make sure that more housing is available before they arrive.
The same thing can be said about making sure travel logistics are figured out once they arrive at the location. Will you have a car waiting for them at the airport? Do you have someone who could meet the provider at the airport (especially if you’re in a remote location)?
Housing and transportation can make a big impression on providers – for better or for worse! It can be a deciding factor in whether they will return to your facility or not. Not to mention, providers talk amongst themselves, so if an experience is negative, it can make your plans to staff locum tenens become more difficult.
While you’re working through your 2024 staffing plans, factor in these considerations.
Have Orientation Planned and Scheduled
If you’re planning to welcome new locum tenens staff to your facility in 2024, we recommend scheduling a few days before the assignment for orientation. Preparing for a thorough orientation can ensure that your provider is ready to start their assignment with the information they need. Getting new providers up to speed with your facility is helpful for the provider, your internal team, and of course, your patients.
If orientation of new locum tenens providers isn’t something you’re familiar with, we’ve written an article about how to onboard providers, to help you. We’ve even included some downloadable guides to make planning simpler.
With this information, you should be prepared to create your staffing plan going into 2024. We’re always here to help. Whether you’re working with Wilderness Medical Staffing currently or looking to hire rural and remote specialized locum tenens this coming year, we’d love to talk to you. Reach out to us for assistance with your staffing planning needs.