Flex Time Becomes More Common As Nursing Shortage Eases

In Dayton, Ohio, the nursing shortage has evaporated — at least for the time being.

One hospital in Dayton recently has been telling nurses to stay home rather than come in for scheduled shifts. Some of the nurses at this hospital lost up to a third of their regularly scheduled hours during the holidays, according to this article.

The problem is that there are fewer patients coming in — 10 percent fewer than usual. That plus a 1% vacancy rate for nurses means that there are currently more staff than are really needed.

That vacancy rate for nurses is the lowest that it’s been in several years, according to Deborah Mals, the vice president and chief nursing officer at Miami Valley Hospital. “This is going to be short-lived,” she said.

The Ohio Hospital Association said the vacancy rate statewide for nurses was 4 percent in 2010, the most recent year for which data was available. That’s down from 6.2 percent in 2009 and is down considerably from previous years when the statewide vacancy rate was in double digits, OHA spokeswoman Mary Yost said.

Kettering Health Network said the overall vacancy rate for nurses at its hospitals is under 5 percent, but said there are still opportunities available for nurses in emergency, maternity and some other departments.

“We are still actively pursuing experienced nurses,” said Bev Morris, KHN vice president and chief human resources officer.

The Dayton Daily News contacted Good Samaritan Hospital after receiving a tip that nurses there were routinely told to stay home.

Good Samaritan’s Garman said the use of flex time is a “last resort” at the hospital. “It is unfortunate, and I certainly would like to know who got the last-minute call. It should not be a last-minute call.”

Garman estimated that of the 700 or so Good Samaritan nurses who work outside of the hospital’s emergency department, the majority have had scheduled hours canceled either voluntarily or involuntarily in recent weeks. Some nurses who didn’t get to work their hours were “on-call,” and therefore received a small fraction of the pay they would have received had they worked, she said.

The use of flex time hasn’t been as common for nurses working in critical care or the emergency department, Garman said.
While long used, flex time has become a more prevalent practice at hospitals statewide, said Gingy Harshey-Meade, chief executive officer of the Ohio Nurses Association, which represents registered nurses.

“From an economic standpoint, it’s a very bad thing for the nurse,” many of whom are single parents trying to support families, Harshey-Meade said. “How long could you support your family if your weekly pay was diminished by a third?”
Harshey-Meade said consistent use of flex time is not the best way to run a hospital.

“It’s being used as a staffing solution as opposed to (hospitals) knowing their markets,” she said.

Garman said that since she became chief nursing officer in September, she’s been working on a plan to help nurses get their budgeted hours. The hospital’s administration has taken a close look at its vacancy rate (currently 6 percent); departmental staffing; and its contract and agency staffing, she said.

“Employees are an extremely important asset to us,” Garman said.

Harshey-Meade said reduced reimbursement rates by the government for health care services also are likely a factor in nurses being told to stay home. But Garman said those reduced reimbursement rates have played no role in Good Samaritan’s use of flex time.

“It’s totally driven by volume and acuity,” or the severity of patients’ illnesses or injuries, she said.

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