The COVID-19 pandemic has presented myriad challenges for healthcare facilities around the globe, including sudden changes in standard operating procedures, limited availability of PPE and medications, and perhaps most notably, mental health staff shortages.

These challenges have made providing safe, adequate care to hospital patients all but impossible, placing tremendous strain on doctors, nurses, administrators, and other healthcare personnel.

As the world cautiously emerges from long-established COVID-19 restrictions, hospitals are still struggling to maintain proper staffing. Unfortunately, staffing shortages are not limited to hospitals and primary care practices; mental health facilities, women’s health specialists, and countless other healthcare institutions face this issue on a daily basis.

Why Are There Still Staffing Shortages?

Hospital staffing shortages due to COVID continue to persist even as infection rates dwindle, forcing healthcare employees to work longer hours, days, and weeks than ever before. Healthcare personnel spend most of their time in direct contact with potentially infected patients, and are at a higher risk of exposure to illness. 

Doctors and nurses can easily contract contagious diseases, and may also pass infections along to other members of their household due to their working conditions. For this reason, they may spend more time out of work in quarantine, on sick leave, or caring for sick children and spouses. The heightened precautions that healthcare professionals must take to protect patients have also played a role in nurse shortages.

Staff Shortages nurses and doctors

Patient Safety Risks with Staffing Shortages

The strain on short-staffed healthcare personnel makes it more difficult to perform essential tasks, such as keeping up with critical patient observations at the appropriate frequencies. When high-risk patients (those who are likely to elope or self-harm) aren’t accurately monitored, their safety is threatened because of the increased opportunity for a sentinel event. 

The potential danger puts further stress on already-weary mental health staff. Fortunately, there are innovative solutions to help alleviate this concern. ObservSMART is a Bluetooth-enabled solution that ensures patient safety checks are performed within the right proximity — in real-time. 

Our proven technology eliminates the need for manual (paper) patient reporting, providing staff with the tools they need to successfully prioritize patient care, while proactively mitigating risk. Implementing a tool like ObservSMART can help short-staffed teams work more efficiently and effectively. 

Mental Health Staffing Shortages and COVID

With the recent spread of the ultra-contagious omicron variant, even mental health counselors and others working in behavioral health facilities have a higher risk of exposure than the average adult. In order for doctors and nurses to maintain their Hippocratic Oath (or Florence Nightingale Pledge) they must take every step to protect those around them when they become infected. 

This means that when these professionals do inevitably become sick or test positive for an infection, they must not interact with patients under any circumstances. These factors have significantly contributed to hospital staffing shortages, and will likely continue to affect the healthcare industry through the end of 2022 and beyond.

RELATED: How to attract and retain a qualified mental health nurse workforce

How to Deal with Healthcare Staff Shortages

Providing adequate, compliant mental healthcare services amid nurse shortages caused by the COVID pandemic is a significant challenge for facilities across the country. Understaffing in hospitals can result in unsafe conditions for patients and employees, and often prevents proper treatment from being administered. 

The CDC has outlined strategies for mitigating staffing shortages in hospitals on its website, offering essential insight to practices that face understaffing. Some of the easiest ways to deal with lack of nurses in hospitals include:

  • Cancel as many non-essential procedures and visits as possible. While preventative care is still important, seeing those who require immediate assistance should take precedent during a staffing shortage.
  • Identify the challenges that prevent nurses from coming to work. Lack of access to adequate transportation may affect those in certain demographics, as well as inability to quarantine effectively at home.
  • Ask staff to temporarily reduce their time-off requests during covid. Personal time should be granted on a limited basis while still allowing staff adequate time for self mental healthcare and rest.

The CDC also recommends that facilities continuously enforce proper use of PPE and social distancing to prevent nurses’ exposure to infectious disease.

Nurse holding an ipad doing safety checks

How We Can Help

Unfortunately, these strategies alone may not be enough to properly address staffing shortages caused by the pandemic. ObservSMART patient check technology is a system that allows mental healthcare providers to closely monitor patients and record their information in real-time. It saves doctors and nurses time while validating compliance with patient check requirements. 

Visit our website to learn how ObservSMART can improve compliance and safety standards at your facility amid staff shortages, or to request a demo.