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Float Pools: The Next Generation

healthcare blog jackie larson avantas president

In nursing, the term “floating” often raises groans from core staff. It can be a cause of frustration and low job satisfaction for many healthcare providers.

Like almost everyone else, core staff nurses enjoy a predictable schedule and familiar work environment. They like the comfort of their home base while working within their primary skill set. This is why they dislike being floated to other units on a frequent basis. That said, floating is inevitable on occasions; but limiting core staff floating can improve staff satisfaction, reduce core staff overtime – and reduce costs.

With the effects of the nursing shortage continuing to be felt throughout healthcare, and the gap of unfilled jobs projected to increase, you may be saying to yourself, “What else am I supposed to do?” Enter today’s flexible resource pool. This contingency resource is designed to flex up and down with patient volume to fill those needs after core staff has met their FTE.

Flexible resource pools of today are very different from float pools of the recent past, as they have changed dramatically in their design and functionality. The evolution of the float pool to a flexible resource pool is less about traditional floating than it is about having a strategic and flexible source of staff that fills needs across the enterprise in line with emerging demand. A highly customized solution, flexible resource pools are designed to fit the size of the healthcare system its volume and census patterns. For larger systems with multiple facilities within the same market or metro area, an enterprise pool is a wise strategy. Enterprise pool nurses are highly skilled and provide flexibility to move among facilities and work on a variety of units.

A site-based FTE pool is another option. This small group of nursing generalists carry an FTE and can function in a variety of areas. They provide a consistent resource for known demand and have the flexibility to adjust based upon the specific needs for a particular shift.

With a variety of ways to build resource pools, the first step is to determine what types and size of resource pools an organization could best utilize. Conducting a workforce analysis helps identify need and lays the foundation for the structure of various pools. Workforce analytics provide data-driven insights about the distribution of resources and sizing of pool staff, increasing flexibility to fill known gaps and to adjust for census-driven demand and staff behaviors.

The structure and design of the resource pool is then customized so that it fulfills the organization’s need. The difference between flexible resource pools of today and float pools of yesterday is that today’s pools can be developed with technology-enabled solutions combining advanced scheduling and management techniques that forecast patient demand and then apply precision staffing and scheduling. In contrast, yesterday’s float pools were based on guesswork and filling gaps at the last minute.

Now that you have your flexible resource pool designed, you may be asking yourself, “How do I fill it?” One approach that is growing in popularity is utilizing new graduates. A new generation of nurses has emerged, and their adventurous nature spurs them to enjoy a flexible work environment. They are able to see the value of building their skills by working on a variety of units and gaining indispensable clinical experience while maintaining the work-life balance they desire. With the right program and support system in place, utilizing new grads in this manner can be a successful approach.

A resource pool is an effective strategy that utilizes flexibility to fill critical staffing needs. Filling these pools with nurses who align with the needed flexibility helps sustain an organization’s workforce and staff satisfaction, while producing cost savings for the enterprise.