News News September 20, 2017

Healthcare Staffing: Flu Season’s Best Defense Is a Well-planned Offense

Year after year, the flu season has proven unpredictable in severity and length, which can make this aliment especially difficult to contain over the course of its seasonal run.

For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2015-2016 flu season peaked in mid-March, one of the latest peaks on record. As a result, the overall burden of influenza was substantial, with an estimated 25 million influenza illnesses, 11 million influenza-associated medical visits, 310,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 deaths.

For the 2017-2018 flu season, hospitals and health systems need a strategy in place to make sure they are supplying the highest standard of care. Staff planning is the best defense for achieving positive outcomes for your patients and your bottom line in the upcoming flu season.

What is a well-planned offense for flu season?

When dealing with anything unpredictable, such as the flu season, a strategic course of action can help guard against negative results. A nurse staffing plan that includes contingencies for a stronger-than-expected flu season will allow a healthcare provider prepare to ramp up personnel months in advance.

“Although the flu season occurs every year, healthcare organizations are still overwhelmed by patients because of a lack of a focused staff plan,” said Marcia Faller, PhD, RN, Chief Clinical Officer for AMN Healthcare. “Or if they have a plan, often times it’s either incomplete or doesn’t adequately cover the scope of challenges that the flu season brings.”

Every flu season has the potential to become severe. And that’s why Faller said a staffing plan needs to be dynamic instead of static. A healthcare provider’s ability to change its flu season staffing plan ahead of time can protect patient health and spare the provider a lot of problems.

If providers wait too long to hire temporary staffing for flu season, there may not be enough nurses and other clinicians available.

Tips for staying ahead of the flu season

To help healthcare organizations get ready for the coming flu season, Faller offered these tips:

  • Examine your existing flu season staffing plans as soon as possible. Review what your organization did in years past as well. If you don’t have a plan, start one immediately. A typical flu season may run December through February, but it can start as early as October and last through May.
  • Conduct an analysis of needs, including an examination of your organization's past trends in staffing numbers and patient census. Did you have a patient surge during last year’s flu season? Will you need extra help this year as well? Do you have a way to secure additional nurses and make sure they’re onsite when needed?
  • Prior to flu season, your staffing plan should be reviewed every two to four weeks until it is time to actually start hiring more nurses.
  • During flu season, continue to monitor your plan for effectiveness and make changes as needed.
  • Regularly monitor the CDC about the upcoming flu season. A successful plan is dynamic, so an updated CDC flu season forecast might change your plans. CDC also provides information about outbreak severity, the known strains of flue, and recommended treatments.
  • The earlier you start contracting for nurses and other healthcare professionals, the more likely you will get them and be better prepared for the coming flu season.