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Managing COVID-19 operational challenges in health care

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

by Cerner Corporation

Published on 10/19/2020

As hospitals and health systems continue to navigate the challenges of COVID-19, the availability of beds and clinical staff remains critical. Agility, communication and technology are essential to quickly adapt to a surge of patients, and providers are relying on workforce and capacity management tools within the electronic health record to meet extraordinary demands. These solutions can help with allocating resources, increasing efficiencies and maintaining a safe work environment.

These are some of the ways health care providers are using data and Cerner tools to strategically schedule their workforce and help avoid a staffing shortage during the pandemic.

Increasing caregiver flexibility 

An integrated health care network with 17 hospitals used Clairvia®, a workforce forecasting tool, to allow clinical staff to “float” across the system during the organization’s COVID-19 surge. The technology gives clinicians visibility to understaffed shifts, providing more scheduling automation in high-demand times.

They also created a COVID-19-specific cost center to track expenses and scheduling of floating staff. All staff are labeled as float-eligible in this cost center and it’s set up to schedule shifts for temperature screeners who are needed in multiple areas throughout the health system. The shifts aren’t skill-specific, which means the opportunities can be shared house-wide. This translates to greater flexibility for organizations to assign available caregivers to areas of the hospital where they’re needed most.

Managing remote staff 

With some staff working off-site during COVID-19, Texas Children’s Hospital, a HIMSS Stage 7 organization in Houston, has taken a new approach to scheduling. The provider used Clairvia to develop a label that designates a staff member as “Remote/Telecommute for COVID.” The identifier eliminates the requirement for the staff member to punch a time clock and is available for post-COVID-19 staff reports needed to analyze efforts during the pandemic.

Tracking staff schedules, supporting clinician safety 

Glens Falls Hospital, a community health care center in New York, is making creative use of the tools it has on hand to address staff scheduling and patient testing. The provider built a new cost center in Clairvia specifically to track where nurses are working and to plan for staffing needs during the pandemic. 

Scheduling, staffing and safety are a few of the top challenges for Northern Light Health, a system in Brewer, Maine, with 10-member hospitals. The organization built generic units in Clairvia, outside of the active units they already had, to aid in any preparation for an anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients. 

“Managers can float a staff member in the generic unit into their department and assign that staff member to a specific patient,” said Chad Jewell, workforce analyst, Northern Light Health.

In preparation for a potential resurgence of COVID-19 patients, Northern Light Health added about 1,500 additional cost centers and staff into Clairvia to provide reporting opportunities and additional staffing flexibility. This will allow the provider to help state agencies in staffing external COVID-19 field hospitals if needed. 

“These tools give our unit managers and leadership more insight into how patient acuity and staff productivity is trending, and how to provide the best care based on patient needs,” said Jewell.

Enhancing visibility to COVID-19 results, allocating resources 

As Northern Light Health adjusted their staffing practices, the provider also wanted a way to track which patients tested positive for COVID-19, and where they were in the health system. Using CareAware Patient Flow ®, the organization’s capacity management teams created a clinical attribute for COVID-19 and COVID Patients Under Investigation (PUI). When a patient’s results are negative, the attributes drop automatically. Northern Light Health also uses CareAware Reporting to track ventilator use for state and federal reporting. 

“The Cerner workforce management solution suite lets us modify our current suite of tools and quickly build the other tools we need to care for our patients,” said Jen Fogel MSN, RN-BC, vice president and regional nursing informatics officer, Northern Light Health. “Being able to see and track staff and equipment use helps us better prepare to treat our patients. Also, having the ability to track patient movement at an organizational level gives caretakers an improved view of the most desirable location for that patient in order to ensure the best possible care.” 

To better organize COVID-19 test results, Glens Falls Hospital uses CareAware Capacity Management®which updates a patient’s test status through pending, positive and negative, and facilitates care team communication. 

“These status updates are important for the staff as well as the leadership team,” said Kenta Kameda BSN, RN, informatics nurse, Glens Falls. “The CFO, CEO, CNO also use the Capacity Management Bed Board to look at the statuses in their own offices. Our vice president of planning and development uses the Bed Board for reporting to regulatory bodies.”

COVID-19 has put tremendous stress on the health care industry, but it’s also given providers an opportunity to assess how they can operate more efficiently and effectively. With workforce and capacity management technology and data, care teams and leadership can make informed decisions and adjustments to staffing models based on the information at-hand. 

Better patient outcomes occur when you have the right caregiver, in the right place, at the right time. Learn more here. 

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