Most hospitals struggle with overtime, as each sick day that must be filled - and there are many in an organization that must be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week - adds to payroll costs.
Long-term staffing issues also persist. It's not uncommon for large healthcare organizations to lay off dozens of employees one week, only to rehire dozens more the next week, in an effort to address the changing needs of their patient population.
Neither scenario is ideal, particularly in an industry facing ever-increasing pressure to improve patient care and reduce costs when margins already aren't much higher than retail. That's why Ellis Medicine, a 438-bed healthcare system in the Albany, N.Y. area, rolled out a human resources software suite to rein in costs, put talented people where they are most needed and make managers more than just babysitters.
HR Vice President: 'I Had a Partner in the CIO'
Five years ago, amid the merger of three hospitals and several ancillary sites, Joe Giansante joined Ellis Medicine. Giansante, now the system's vice president of human resources, soon saw a need to upgrade its HR software.
Hospitals invest millions annually in financial and clinical IT systems but spend much less on "the people side of the business," even though it can account for as much as 70 percent of an organization's total costs, Giansante points out.
In that vein, true managers should act as more than just staff caretakers. To build an environment of accountability, ownership and performance, managers need to behave almost like entrepreneurs - and to do that, they need meaningful, actionable data that's accessible in real-time.
"Human resources needs to speak up about the technology needed to better run a hospital," Giansante says. To ensure that happened, he developed a relationship with Ellis Medicine's CIO during their three-month search for a new HR technology partner - to the point, he says, that "I knew I had a partner in the CIO."
HR Software Means Less Overtime, Fewer Layoffs
Ultimately, the health system selected software from API Healthcare. Ellis Medicine then spent a full two years of "due diligence," working with nurse leaders and other department managers, before the "big-bang" go-live, Giansante says, adding that training remains ongoing.
The deployment, which replaced a number of disparate systems, included "basic" technology such as payroll and HR systems as well as online scheduling, time-off tracking and live staffing modules. Those modules assist the "entrepreneurial" part of management, as they ease the process of adjusting staff levels. Specifically, managers can track the schedule in a particular unit at any hour of the day by the number of staff scheduled, the number of absences (planned or otherwise) and the ratio of staff to patients.
This adds transparency to the scheduling process, Giansante says, and in the process builds a culture of accountability. Since its implementation, unscheduled absences have decreased "significantly" - so much so that, in the 12-month period ending in October 2013, overtime costs dropped by two-thirds.
In addition, API's talent management software helps Ellis Medicine keep track of its employees and their skill sets, as well as where there are unmet staffing needs within the healthcare system. (It's no secret that inpatient hospital traffic is declining, not just in New York but nationally, as surgical procedures become less invasive and subsequently move to ambulatory day centers. As the "old" hospital model downsizes, growth occurs in services such as critical care, home healthcare and community programs.)
Talent management has a twofold benefit. One, it has helped Ellis Medicine avoid painful layoffs, Giansante says, adding that it's much easier - and cheaper - to transition someone inside an organization to a role for which they are suited than to hire someone from the outside. Two, it brings "tremendous value" to recruitment by reassuring applicants that Ellis Medicine will find a way to make the most of their talents in an ever-changing workforce.
Brian Eastwood is a senior editor for CIO.com. He primarily covers healthcare IT. You can reach him on Twitter @Brian_Eastwood or via email. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.
Read more about health care in CIO's Health care Drilldown.