Physicians working fewer hours due to furloughs and layoffs

June 11, 2020

COVID19 fallout is causing a heretofore unexperienced staffing crisis.

A recent survey of more than 2,750 clinicians from Washington-based Primary Care Collaborative finds most respondents working fewer hours because of furloughs and layoffs caused by COVID-19.

All staffing groups report working less, according to the survey, including 72 percent of clinicians, 65 percent of nurses and 58 percent of administrative staff. “A consistent 42 percent continue to report layoffs and furloughs,” it adds.

A survey of 1,200 physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) from CHG Healthcare-a staffing group in Midvale, Utah-reports similar results. “With seven-percent reporting being laid-off and six-percent furloughed, healthcare is facing a staffing crisis we’ve never seen before,” states the survey, which attributes the attrition to lower patient volumes and a “pause in elective care.”

“No elective care means less work for most healthcare workers at least in the near-term. Elective usually doesn’t mean optional. It’s still necessary treatment, but may not be immediately life-threatening,” explains CHG CEO Scott Beck.

Adds Rick Gundling-FHFMA, CMA, senior vice president, healthcare financial practices, Healthcare Financial Management Association, Westchester, Ill.-“When physicians postpone surgery, there’s less administrative staff. When they reschedule those patients, they bring them back. Patients will need their pre-authorizations, pre-operative work-ups, histories and physicals. Those patients don’t get better by themselves,” observes Gundling who expects administrative staff to be the first to be let go.

“If you’re not doing surgeries or procedures, you don’t have the pre-authorizations or customer service you would normally have,” he notes.

The CHG survey reports many physicians, PAs and NPs filing for unemployment for the first time. Employed or not, these providers expressed interest in changing employers (24 percent) or careers to locum tenens, temporary physician, (37 percent) or telehealth (30 percent), it adds.

“This break gives a lot of people the opportunity to reflect on what they want out of their medical career and how they want to work. While most providers will go back to their previous jobs, some may use this as an opportunity to go somewhere new,” says Beck who calls broader acceptance and use of telehealth “one of the positives to come out of this pandemic. 

“Most facilities found themselves required to adopt telehealth. While it’s hard to replace an in-person exam, I can’t see us going back to the way it was before. Even in the locum tenens world, we have physicians who work in different states from those they live. They were able to switch to telemedicine to cover shifts without having to travel,” says Beck who predicts furloughed, laid-off healthcare workers will be rehired.

“Most facilities will reopen and require the same staff. However, we may see healthcare facilities working in new ways. Telemedicine has taken off and shown itself to be a useful tool. It’s here to stay,” he notes.

Gundling thinks rehired workers will focus on telehealth, at least for the short term. “They’ll be working for those patients postponed for the last couple of months. The great majority of non-elective surgeries will need to get done in the next six months or so.

“I hear some optimism about the recovery. Jobs are coming back. Will they be modified in terms of where they focus their time? Probably,” he says.

To practices struggling to find staff, Beck advises, “Reach out to physicians in your local area and see if they would work temporary contract jobs with you. It’s also important to let patients know what services you have available. Whether you use marketing, social media or something as simple as phone calls, make sure you keep patients up to date on your offerings and safety procedures,” he says.

Gundling concurs and offers is own checklist.

“Access all COVID relief that they’re entitled. Work with their local bank to ensure funds are flowing. Keep abreast of provider relief funds from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Baltimore. Stay in touch with your local banks. Talk to your leaseholder to defer payments. Think about all those things, like any other business,” he adds.