With the current skilled nursing and home health aide (HHA) staff shortages, healthcare organizations are seeking innovative ways to manage their staffing needs. One potential solution to this problem is the use of nursing float pools.
Naturally, you may wonder: what are nursing float pools, and what are their advantages and disadvantages? Further, can they help with healthcare staffing shortages in various healthcare industry sectors? Read on to find the answers.
Nursing Float Pools: A Short Overview
In traditional hospital settings, float pool nurses are healthcare professionals called upon to fill temporary patient care needs in medical facilities. They are a group of experienced, on-call registered nurses (RNs) who can provide general care in various specialties and departments – such as orthopedics, oncology, and cardiac – and work various shifts.
Float pools are an effective way to create flexibility and promote efficient staffing. They address unexpected scheduling gaps, provide relief for scheduled staff in case of emergencies, and give employees an opportunity for greater income. In short, nursling float pools can help ensure that you always have the caretakers you need to provide outstanding patient care.
What should you look for in your float pool nurses? First and foremost, they must quickly and efficiently adapt to new environments and procedures. And, of course, they must be proficient in executing their primary duties, which include:
- Pre-assessment of patient conditions
- Monitoring vital signs
- Administering medications
- Collecting lab specimens
The Advantages of Nursing Float Pools
Nursing float pools offer many advantages to healthcare organizations and skilled nursing and home health aide staff.
Advantages for Healthcare Organizations
By organizing skilled nursing float pools, you can position your organization to better respond to ever-evolving healthcare system demands. Float pools can help you:
- Reduce reliance on temporary healthcare professionals: You can quickly deploy float pool nurses or HHAs already familiar with the facility’s policies and procedures.
- Maintain adequate staffing levels: Float pools allow you to maintain staffing levels during times of increased demand, such as during a public health pandemic or when other skilled nursing or HHA staff members go on leave. They can fill in any gaps in the schedule, allowing your facility to continue delivering quality care throughout the crisis.
- Reduce costs: Float pools help you save money by avoiding overtime payouts and controlling labor costs. Float pool RNs cost less than permanent and contractual nurses. They also save on hiring and training new or additional staff.
Advantages for Nurses and Home Health Aides
Becoming a float pool nurse offers numerous benefits for skilled nurses and HHAs, including:
- Flexibility: Float pools allow nurses and HHAs to be flexible in their assignments and work schedules, allowing them to work and gain experience in different hospital or health organization areas.
- A broad skill set: Since float pool nurses are considered “float specialists,” they have a broader skill set than nurses who specialize in one particular unit. Thus, they can use their skills across multiple settings and patient populations.
- Attractive salary: The average salary of a float pool nurse is $39.09 an hour, which adds up to around $82,000 a year. Entry-level wages begin at $28.61 an hour, while high-level wages average at $60.10 an hour.
Other benefits include ample employment opportunities and decreased burnout.
The Disadvantages of Nursing Float Pools
Though nursing float pools have many benefits, they may also present a few challenges – for both management and the caretakers.
Disadvantages for Healthcare Organizations
Disadvantages for healthcare organizations can include:
- More oversight: Maintaining viable float pools requires extensive logistical planning in order to ensure compliance with all applicable policies and regulations. This places a greater load on your management team and resources.
- Continuity of care: Float pool nurses provide great care. However, as non-regular fill-ins, they rarely enjoy the same familiarity and comfort with departmental protocols, or the same relationships with patients, as the nursing professionals regularly assigned to a unit. As such, float pool nurse coverage carries a slightly higher risk for disrupting patients’ continuity of care.
Disadvantages for Nurses and Home Health Aides
Some disadvantages of float pools for nursing staff include:
- Limited relationships: Float pools can limit nurses and HHAs from forming close relationships with their coworkers and gaining job satisfaction from long-term career goals.
- Short learning curve: Nurses who participate in float pools are frequently required to work in dynamic circumstances with unfamiliar procedures and new colleagues. And every facility, department and/or unit has its own onboarding learning curve. As such, float pool nurses have to have great recall and memory in order to accommodate a short learning curve.
Can Float Pools Counteract Staffing Shortages in Home Care?
Nursing float pools have been used to great effect in hospitals and large healthcare systems. However, there’s no reason to believe that they can’t offer the same staffing relief in non-hospital settings. Where else can floating nurses make a difference?
Long-Term Care Facilities
Float pools allow nurses to work across different departments or facilities, providing additional coverage during times of high demand. They can also provide continuity of care for residents in long-term care facilities and ensure a proper patient-to-resident ratio. As a result, there will always be enough nurses on hand to meet patient needs.
Nurses can move from one clinic to another, providing valuable continuity of care and performing a wide range of duties such as triage, assessment, and management of minor illnesses or injuries.
Nursing float pools can serve as a flexible staffing solution when many patients require a higher level of care. They can also provide supplemental training and education to new staff members, allowing them to become more quickly integrated into their hospice team.
According to a January 2023 report from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), nursing homes are experiencing the most significant staffing challenges of any healthcare sector. During the pandemic, they lost 210,000 home health aide (HHA) jobs, the most losses since 1994.
Using float pool nurses can help supplement existing staff to ensure an adequate number is always available, especially in the case of vacations, time off, last-minute shift changes, and more.
Leveraging the Benefits of Nursing Float Pools
Organized pools of floating nurses offer many advantages to healthcare organizations. Hospitals and large healthcare systems have leaned on this staffing model in recent years to counteract some of the worst effects of the healthcare staffing shortage. And there’s every reason to believe nursing float pools can make a similar difference combating staffing shortages for your home health agency, long-term care facility or hospice service.