Strategies to Manage Staff Absences in Senior Care Settings

Senior care communities depend on their staff to provide quality care, and absences can have a significant impact on residents and remaining staff members. The challenges posed by these absences are further amplified by ongoing staffing shortages in the industry. Effective strategic planning can help senior care communities prepare for and manage unexpected staff absences, ensuring that residents continue to receive the essential care they need.

Challenges in Managing Staff Absences

Henry Lukenge

Henry Lukenge, founder at Nexim Healthcare Consultants, Inc

Staff absences cause several challenges for senior care communities. “It can be challenging to quickly find experienced staff members to fill in for absent employees, especially for unexpected absences,” says Henry Lukenge, founder at Nexim Healthcare Consultants, Inc. Additionally, staff absences disrupt the continuity of care, which can lead to gaps in communication and service coordination.

Staff absences can have a negative impact on resident satisfaction as well. “Short-staffed senior care communities may struggle to provide the same level of personalized care and attention to residents, which can affect their overall satisfaction and quality of life,” Lukenge explains.

Dr. Ahzam Afzal, CEO and co-founder of Puzzle Healthcare, notes that unfilled shifts can contribute to burnout among remaining staff, since they must assume increased workloads, potentially leading to compromised patient care. “This can affect the overall morale and potentially impact the quality of resident care,” he says.

Preparing for Absences with a Staffing Contingency Plan

Dr. Afzal headshot

Dr. Ahzam Afzal, CEO and co-founder of Puzzle Healthcare

A contingency plan can better equip senior care communities to manage both scheduled and unscheduled staff absences effectively. “An effective staffing contingency plan involves cross-training staff to handle multiple roles, maintaining a flexible pool of part-time or per-diem staff, and using predictive analytics to forecast staffing needs,” says Afzal. “It’s about building resilience into the staffing model.”

Lukenge provides the following step-by-step guidance to create an effective staffing contingency plan:

  1. Identify key stakeholders: Involve management, human resources, frontline staff, and other relevant departments in the planning process. Each stakeholder can provide valuable insights and perspectives on staffing needs and challenges.
  2. Assess staffing needs: Conduct an assessment to determine the facility’s staffing requirements based on factors such as resident demographics, care needs, and facility This will help in determining the appropriate staffing levels and skill sets needed to maintain quality care.
  3. Develop a flexible framework: Create a framework that outlines procedures for managing staff absences, including protocols for scheduling, shift coverage, and communication. The plan should be adaptable to different scenarios, such as anticipated absences and
    unexpected emergencies.
  4. Establish communication channels: Ensure that there are clear communication channels in place for staff to report absences, request coverage, and receive updates on staffing Effective communication is essential for coordinating staff schedules and maintaining continuity of care.
  5. Utilize resources wisely: Consider using technology solutions, temporary staffing agencies, or cross-training opportunities to help manage staff absences and fill in gaps in coverage. Utilizing resources efficiently can help prevent disruptions in care delivery.
  6. Regularly review and update the plan: Regularly review and update the staffing contingency plan to address any changes in staffing needs, policies, or procedures. Plan reviews should be conducted at least annually to ensure that the plan remains relevant and effective.

Once a contingency plan is established, it’s also important to regularly review and update it.

How to Effectively Manage Staff Absences

When creating an absence management system, Lukenge encourages senior care communities to integrate it with other HR systems, such as payroll and scheduling. This integration can streamline processes and ensure accurate tracking of employee leave balances and paid time off, enhancing overall efficiency.

Lukenge notes that some communities use a combination of automated tools and manual oversight to accurately track staff absences. He suggests several strategies for accurate absence tracking:

  1. Implement an online absence tracking system: “We use Deputy to automate the tracking of absences, making it easier to record and monitor employee time off,” says Lukenge.
  2. Regularly review and update absence records: HR staff regularly review and update absence records, ensuring their accuracy and identifying any absence patterns or trends.
  3. Train managers and supervisors: Senior care communities provide managers and supervisors with training on how to accurately report and track employee absences. This training helps ensure consistency and thorough documentation throughout the community.
  4. Conduct regular audits: Communities can periodically audit absence records. During the audit, communities should verify data accuracy and identify any potential discrepancies that need to be addressed.

How to Prepare to Quickly Fill Staff Vacancies

Senior care communities can also take steps ahead of time to ensure they’re prepared to fill vacancies when unexpected staff absences occur. Lukenge encourages communities to develop a succession plan for each key role in the community. A community should identify potential candidates, provide training and development opportunities, and prepare candidates to step into vacant positions when needed.

Lukenge notes that it’s also helpful to maintain a talent pool. “Continuously recruit and maintain a pool of potential candidates who can fill staff vacancies at short notice,” he recommends. “This could include keeping in touch with past employees, interns, or freelancers who have previously worked for the community.”

When a community needs to recruit candidates for a vacant position, having a streamlined recruitment process in place can speed up that process. “This could involve pre-screening candidates, conducting virtual interviews, and utilizing technology for applicant tracking,” says Lukenge.

He also encourages communities to use technology to fill vacancies. Online job boards and recruitment platforms can help communities reach a wider pool of candidates, and implementing an applicant tracking system can automate everything from posting job openings to managing applications and communicating with candidates.

Given that staffing agencies often play a vital role in helping senior care communities fill shifts, it is essential for these communities to establish relationships with agencies that are the right fit. “Senior care communities should look for staffing agencies with robust credentialing processes, a deep understanding of the senior care landscape, and the ability to provide staff at short notice,” says Afzal. “Establishing a relationship involves clear communication about expectations, response times, and the quality of staff provided.”

Staff absences can be challenging for the senior care industry, but there are also many ways that senior care communities can plan for them. “Innovative workforce solutions, like developing a flexible workforce and leveraging technology, are the future of senior care staffing,” explains Afzal. “By adopting a proactive and predictive approach to managing staff absences, communities can not only maintain a high standard of care but also create a supportive work environment that can attract and retain top talent.”

Topics: Facility management , Featured Articles , Operations , Risk Management , Staffing , Training