Providers seek outside-the-box strategies to fill staff shortages

Workforce shortages continue to plague the healthcare industry, among both doctors and nurses. However, thinking outside the box can help hospital leaders fill those gaps.

Some providers are testing the idea of “grand-aides”--a cross between a "wise" grandparent and a nurse’s aide--as a possible solution, according to an article from Houston Public Media. University of Virginia Health System, for instance, uses them to check in on patients after discharge to gauge their recovery process by checking vital signs, noting hazards in the home and making sure patients are eating well. Initially, the grand-aides visit daily, then they gradually cut back visits at the patient recovers.

“So the original idea was that a grandparent knows a lot about what health can be,” Craig Thomas, who supervises UVA’s grand-aides program, told Houston Public Media. “When sick is sick enough to go to the hospital, and when sick is sick enough to stay home and take a Tylenol and you’ll be OK.” Heart failure patients visited by grand-aides cut their risk of readmission by half, according to Thomas.

Meanwhile, in states like Texas, where both the doctor and nurse shortages are worsening, the top talent is concentrated in a few major cities, leaving the state’s rural areas shorthanded, according to the article. About a quarter of Lone Star State counties have fewer than five doctors, according to Texas Medical Center Director of Health Policy Tim Garson, M.D. The solution, he said, isn’t simply training more doctors, particularly for cash-strapped providers.

Instead, Garson told the publication, hospitals should use other professionals such as nurse practitioners, to fill care gaps. Texas is not among the 21 states that have expanded nurse practitioners’ scope of practice to allow them to diagnose patients and prescribe medications, according to Garson, but doing so would allow the state to reduce access gaps. Similarly, Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System has stepped up its recruitment efforts, not just for doctors but clerical and pharmacy jobs as well, FierceHealthcare previously reported.