Locum Tenens Staffing for Community Health Centers: How to Leverage Locum Providers
"The staffing challenges facing community health centers are likely to become more acute" as shortages grow and more facilities find themselves in need of physicians and clinicians — including doctors, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs).
So writes Jeff Waddill, Divisional Vice President of Staff Care, in a recent article for Community Health Forum® Magazine. The official publication of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), the m magazine is dedicated to reporting news and issues "surrounding health care delivery to the medically underserved and the community-based health care providers whose mission is to serve them" throughout the United States.
As NACHC’s preferred partner for locum tenens staffing, and a long-time supporter of the annual National Health Center Week, Staff Care is uniquely positioned to help the nation's community centers maintain optimal staffing — not just when the need arises for extra help, but all throughout the year.
To this end, Waddill's article discusses the reasons for the increase in locum tenens staffing by America's healthcare providers in recent years, but also the specific needs that have arisen for community health centers, which "serve 25 million patients in more than 9,200 sites across the country," as Waddill notes. And, "according to NACHC data, 95% of health centers have at least one clinical vacancy."
"Current turnover rates for primary care physicians now run at about 13% annually, according to the database company SK&A, and virtually all facilities that employ physicians, such as community health centers, must address the issue of provider turnover," Waddill writes, noting that many health centers "choose to fill openings caused by turnover with locum tenens providers.
"Patient demand for services clearly is rising at many community health centers, which, like other health care facilities, often experience peak usage periods," Waddill adds, noting that Staff Care specializes in providing locum tenens professionals "to address rising patient demand and expand services during peak usage periods" — as well as to address the other, more standard needs for locum staffing, including:
- To fill in while a facility seeks a permanent physician;
- To temporarily replace staff who have unexpectedly left;
- To fulfill the duties of providers who are on vacation, sabbatical, or "are otherwise temporarily absent due to illness, continuing medical education or other reasons;"
- To meet rising patient demand; and/or
- To help meet an increased need for care during peak usage times.
Locum Staffing Considerations For Community Health Centers
Waddill then goes on to provide a rundown of important considerations that community health centers should keep front of mind when staffing locum tenens professionals:
- Use Locum Staffing Strategically. Locum doctors and clinicians "should be part of a larger strategic staffing plan in which patient demand for services and the health center’s staffing needs are projected in advance," Waddill writes. Locum tenens staffing "should be a supplement to permanent staff, not a substitute for permanent personnel," he adds, noting that the use of locums clinicians should be proactive and arranged in advance of need, "instead of reacting to staff openings as they arise."
- Reconsider the Concept of “Fully Staffed.” Striving for a “full staff” is standard practice among today's healthcare organizations — but should it be? "Since utilization levels vary throughout the year, it can be more cost-effective to stay flexible, up-staffing and down-staffing as appropriate," Waddill writes. Locum tenens providers can be used to "build flexibility into community health center staffing targets."
- Better Understand the Costs/Benefits. Like permanent staff, locum tenens providers can represent costs to community health centers. "However," Waddill writes, "by determining revenues likely to be lost due to understaffing, health centers can create an objective measure of the financial benefits locum tenens providers can generate." Here's where locum tenens billing comes into play: For instance, Staff Care is equipped to help community health centers set up a specific billing process for locum tenens providers.
- Temp-to-Perm is Not a Long-Term Strategy. While it's true that locum providers sometimes accept permanent positions, they, for the most part, choose to work on a locum tenens basis because that's the lifestyle they prefer, and they aren't actually seeking permanent employment. It's important, then, for community health centers to not operate under the expectation that their locum providers will become temp-to-perm; instead, they should "engage in the formal process of a permanent physician search, complementing permanent search efforts with the appropriate use of locum tenens providers" — another aspect of a fully fleshed-out staffing strategy with which Staff Care can provide key guidance.
- "One Size Does Not Fit All." "Locum tenens staffing may not require the highly detailed and often lengthy candidate matching process typical of a permanent search, but it is important to ensure as much as possible that locum tenens providers have the appropriate backgrounds and skill sets," Waddill notes, emphasizing the importance of working with a locum agency with both the decades of healthcare industry expertise and specific experience of working with the nation's community health centers.
- Working with staffing agencies, community health centers can help ensure that locum tenens providers have more than just a license in their state but also have the right backgrounds and skills to treat health center patients," he adds.