How to Deal With Healthcare Staff Call-Offs

Challenges for Healthcare Managers,Healthcare Policies,Healthcare Staffing Solutions,Healthcare Technology

Here at Nursa, we often talk about helping healthcare administrators and facility managers solve scheduling issues when they have short staffing, a patient influx due to the holidays, flu season, or a staffing crisis in the middle of a pandemic. Hospitals and medical centers love using Nursa precisely because we can help them fill in the gaps in their staff schedules. 

But what about those last-minute phone calls? You know, the ones we mean. When a healthcare staff member calls off for their shift, and if you're lucky, you have a few hours to address the issue, but sometimes they call in sick even after their shift has started. Those phone calls are the worst, forming a chain reaction that you know has consequences.

Consequences for Unplanned Staff Call Offs

  • Adjustments to Staffing Ratios: The first obvious consequence is that the shift manager has to adjust the staffing ratio. Staff ratios per unit are a delicate balance that is often fluid due to intake and discharge, and transfers and your floating nurses are necessary to maintain that balance. Moving one of them impacts that balance which can affect your safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratio.
  • Spread the Burden: You may spread the burden among several staff nurses on shift. Nevertheless, due to the nursing shortage that has been a challenge since before the pandemic, we know most nurses are already feeling overworked and strained. Consequently, taking on the burden of a coworker who's called in only adds to those feelings (mainly if it's a common occurrence).
  • Diminished Quality of Patient CareResearch has shown that nurse-to-patient ratios are directly correlated to patient safety, increased hospital stay length, and increased facility cost.
  • Stress and Time: The pressure placed on the shift manager to manage the consequences of a staff call-off and the time spent looking for a replacement, whether it means rearranging nurse assignments or calling off-duty nurses, comes with a financial and emotional cost.

How to Address Staff Call Offs

Not all the consequences above occur every single time, nor is it always a worst-case scenario. Nevertheless, the stress it places on the shift manager and the other clinicians each time it occurs does not diminish. It, in fact, compounds. Retention and turnover are hot topics in the healthcare industry today, and as such, the issue of staff call-offs needs to be addressed as a contributor to burnout.

When you receive these phone calls, does your heart rate increase? Do you get angry? Do you know what your HR guidelines are for call-offs? Or do you wing it and barrel forward without a plan?

While it sounds counterintuitive, it is possible to plan for unplanned employee absences. You can create a guideline for yourself and other shift managers for what to do in precisely these types of circumstances. Here are some tips:

  • Know your HR guidelines for staff call-offs. Do you need to ask the staff person for documentation explaining their absence? Do you need to submit some form of documentation as the shift manager? Does HR have a limit to the number of times a staff member may call in? Knowledge doesn't fix all our problems on its own, but it does help us understand how to find solutions. Furthermore, knowledge will ensure you get the information you need when they call in, so you save your time calling them back later to request documentation or further questions.
  • Take a deep breath and flex your empathy muscles. While it's perfectly normal to feel an anger response in stressful situations, it's not professional to respond in anger. When your staff calls off a shift, please take a deep breath and listen to whatever reason they provide to call off work. They know as well as you do that their unplanned absence will create a problem for you, so the odds are high that they don't want to do it. Look for a bit of empathy so that you don't feel guilty afterward for how you responded. 
  • Use Nursa, the healthcare staffing app, to find a replacement quickly. Save yourself the time of calling the list of off-duty nurses. Instead, sign into Nursa and post the shift for a per diem clinician to pick up. PRN clinicians apply for shifts directly in the app. Check your post later and select your preferred candidate. (Hint: register your facility today, so your Nursa account is ready)

About Nursa

Nursa is the PRN staffing app, making lives better for hospital and medical facility managers nationwide. With qualified clinicians ranging from CNAs, LPNs, RNs, and allied healthcare workers looking for PRN shifts, your short-term staffing solution is easier than ever. Nursa is not a subscription service, and there are no quota requirements. Use Nursa when you need us, and pay only for worked shifts.

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Blog published on:
December 12, 2022

Meet Miranda, a Registered Nurse, Medical Fact Checker, and Publishing Editor at Nursa. Her work has been featured in publications including the American Nurses Association (ANA), Healthcare IT Outcomes, International Living, and more.

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