Healthcare Staffing Shortages

Healthcare Staffing Shortages


The spread of the COVID-19 and variants has prolonged the shortage of workers across the healthcare industry, straining hospital profitability and adding to burnout rates. Providers across the country are struggling with staffing shortages combined with long hours and increasing administrative burdens that has contributed to staff burnout, turnover, and shortages-even before the pandemic.

Physicians Staffing Shortage Remedies

Many physicians have begun using virtual medical documentation specialists (MDS) in both hospitals and health systems as well as group practices. More than a scribe, an MDS is a tech-enabled assistant to the physician or nurse, leveraging automation technologies to capture real-time patient-provider conversations and convert them into precise medical documentation with appropriate context. The documentation burden reduce time in the EHR and help manage care gaps and HCC reminders, order tests, medications, labs Work and down backlogs of charting


  • Cross-train personnel on essential business functions wherever possible to account for absenteeism.
  • For practice staff who can telework, ensure that they are prepared to do so. Clearly communicate expectations for productivity and hours for staff who will not be at their normal work site.
  • Manage patient volume amid staffing challenges by proactively messaging patients via social media or patient portals to educate them about COVID-19 and encourage them to contact your practice before coming into a clinic if they suspect they might have been exposed.
  • Stay in contact with local temp agencies if certain positions of need can be addressed with a temporary worker. If you have access to a float pool for nurses, medical assistants (MAs), billers, coders, or other office staff, regularly reach out to see what resources might be available.

Hospitals Staffing Remedies

Enable the expansion of clinician-to-patient ratios by assigning clinical providers to the most specialized care including medication administration, ventilator management and delegating non-specialized and personal care provision to supporting staff. Reassign staff from within the system/facility from outpatient clinics and surgery services to units with pressing staffing needs. Temporarily supplement with staff from contracted staffing agencies.

Adjusting staff schedules, hiring additional HCP, and rotating HCP to positions that support patient care activities.

  • Cancel all non-essential procedures and visits. Shift HCP who work in these areas to support other patient care activities in the facility. Facilities will need to ensure these HCP have received appropriate orientation and training to work in these areas that are new to them.
  • Attempt to address social factors that might prevent HCP from reporting to work, such as need for transportation or housing that allows for physical distancing, particularly if HCP live with individuals with underlying medical conditions or older adults.
  • Identify additional HCP to work in the facility. Be aware of state-specific emergency waivers or changes to licensure requirements or renewals for select categories of HCP.
  • As appropriate, request that HCP postpone elective time off from work. Consideration for the mental health benefits of time off and that care-taking responsibilities may differ substantially among staff
  • Structure for Planning, decision making, communication, monitoring and improvement, infection control preparedness, space, and supplies preparedness.

Healthcare facilities Should:

  • Ensure any COVID-19 vaccine requirements for HCP are followed, and where none are applicable, encourage vaccination, including booster dose, as recommended by CDC.
  • Understand their normal staffing needs and the minimum number of staff needed to provide a safe work environment and safe patient care under normal circumstances.
  • Understand the local epidemiology of COVID-19-related indicators (e.g., community transmission levels).
  • Communicate with local healthcare coalitions and federal, state, and local public health partners (e.g., public health emergency preparedness and response staff) to identify additional HCP (e.g., hiring additional HCP, recruiting retired HCP, using students or volunteers), when needed.

In addition, the shortage of hospital workers has hampered recruitment and retention and driven up wages. This will lead to a further decline in profit margins.

Heightened demand will drive higher use of contract labor and increase salary and benefit expenses. Growth in salaries and benefits has exceeded hospitals' expense growth which will likely continue into 2022. Competition for labor after the pandemic is likely to continue as the population ages with a demand for services increase. Even if the near-term shortage is contained, rising demand for healthcare as the U.S. population ages will continue to put pressure on the supply of nurses and workers over the longer term. In addition, the shortage of hospital workers has hampered recruitment and retention and driven up wages -- which the Moodys report predicts will continue into next year. This will lead to a further decline in profit margins. Heightened demand due to the pandemic will drive higher use of contract labor and increase salary and benefit expenses, the report noted. Growth in salaries and benefits has exceeded hospitals' expense growth, a trend likely to continue for the remainder of 2021 and into 2022. In one bright spot in the report, Moody's noted recent rises in nursing school enrollment indicating a more robust long-term staffing pipeline. However, the aging population, combined with a healthcare workforce that may be retiring from their jobs or quitting due to burnout, represent long-term healthcare staffing challenges.

Even after the pandemic, competition for labor is likely to continue as the population ages -- a key social risk -- and demand for services increase

The healthcare labor market is expected to face shortages over the next five to 10 years as the U.S. continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Mercer’s "2021 External Healthcare Labor Market Analysis."

The report examined healthcare labor statistics during the next five to 10 years in every state and at county, state, regional and national levels.

Four main findings:

  1. There will be a shortage of labor at the low end of the wage spectrum, limiting access to home care.
  2. About 9.7 million individuals currently work in lower-wage healthcare positions with the need in the next five years rising to 10.7 million. Trends project 6.5 million employees will permanently leave their positions by 2026 with 1.9 million people replacing them.

    New York and California will have the largest labor shortages, each projected to fall short by 500,000 by 2026.

  3. Primary care will increasingly be provided by non-physicians.
  4. Twenty-one percent of family medicine, pediatric, OB/GYN and other primary care physicians are expected to retire.

    Demand for primary care physicians is projected to grow by 4 percent during the same time period, causing a shift toward other clinicians providing the care.

  5. There will be shortages of nurses in the majority of the states, but surplus in some areas of the South and Southwest.
  6. Demand for nurses is set to grow 5 percent in the next five years.

    More than 900,000 nurses will leave, causing employers to need to hire 1.1 million more by 2026.

    The report projects 29 will be unable to fill demands.

  7. There will be a six-figure hiring rush for mental health professionals by 2026.
  8. A 10 percent increase in demand for mental health workers by 2026 is projected.

    The report projects 27 will be unable to fill hiring demands.

Moodys Report