Collaborative Care: The Impact of Agency Partnerships in Health Care

Collaborative Care: The Impact of Agency Partnerships in Health Care

Using Staffing Agencies to Address Nursing Shortages

On this episode of Aptive Insights we’re exploring how working with health care staffing agencies offers hospitals the agility to meet fluctuating staffing needs, ensuring patient care remains uninterrupted and of the highest quality. These partnerships enable access to a diverse pool of qualified health care professionals, facilitating seamless integration into hospital teams and enhancing overall care delivery.

Our special guest is Dr. Amy Alsante, Chief Nursing Officer at Sunburst Workforce Advisors. She is joined by Tara Dean, director of health solutions at Artemis ARC, Aptive’s protégé partner. Tara leads federal health care delivery programs that improve outcomes for patients, including nursing and high reliability programs for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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In 2022, the health care staffing sector reached $64.4 billion, more than triple the market size in 2019, according to Staffing Industry Analysts. The travel nurse segment makes up 63% of that market, a six-fold increase since 2019, the group reports. The COVID-19 pandemic fueled much of this growth; however health care facilities continue to use staffing agencies to address clinician shortages that could threaten the quality of patient care.

In this episode of Aptive Insights, Tara Dean, director of health solutions at Artemis ARC, looks at using health care staffing agencies to improve care for patients, including our nation’s Veterans. She interviews Dr. Amy Alsante, chief nursing officer at Sunburst Workforce Advisors, an agency that aligns strategic health care staffing partners with a health care facility’s need for talent.

Dr. Alsante holds a Doctor of Nursing Practice in Executive Leadership degree, along with certifications including Nurse Executive, Certified Healthcare Emergency Professional and Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. She has over 15 years of experience in nursing leadership and management, with a focus on quality improvement, patient safety and workforce development.

This article provides highlights from the recent interview.

I am really excited to talk to you today about all things related to staffing and how we care for Veterans, so let’s start with a little bit about you and your background. What do you do at Sunburst Workforce Advisors?

As the chief nursing officer, I basically provide clinical oversight to the operational program’s sales process and implementation. I work very closely with clients to align our services to help them achieve their strategic goals.

What should folks, or health care organizations, that have never worked with a staffing agency know?

I think it’s really important to work with somebody who is transparent in their process — someone focused on optimizing the overall experience, not only for the nurse but for the end user, the client and the patients involved. You’re looking for somebody who is going to work to align with your strategic goals. Whether you are on your journey to Magnet [Recognition Program] or to becoming a high reliability organization — or you just want to improve your patient outcomes overall — you want to ensure you have people who are the right fit for your organization.

As you know, VA is well on its way to becoming a high reliability organization and is very focused on obtaining Magnet and Pathway to Excellence certifications across their different VA medical centers. How can a relationship with a staffing organization make things safer for health care organizations, their patients and the people providing care?

I think there are a couple facets to this. We have access to talent across the country so we’re able to provide staff that are best fit for your organization and needs — with the experience you require. When you have the [right-sized] staff, you’re able to create an exemplary professional practice environment that helps decrease burnout, decrease nurse-patient ratios and provide needed skills.

What we’re seeing is that a lot of experienced nurses are retiring, going to centers or leaving the profession altogether — so we’re losing clinical knowledge at the bedside. The agency nurses we’re providing have the experience and skills you need to support your staff at the bedside. As you’re working to recruit and bolster your staff, your new grads have an opportunity to have people to lean on who have those clinical experiences.

Let’s talk a little bit about how having a relationship with a staffing agency is a proactive move for health care organizations.

That’s really a great question because when most people think of staffing agencies, they think of unnecessary spending and want to immediately cut that piece of the budget. It’s an unbudgeted expense.

But we need to look at things from a little different perspective and we need to think of agencies as part of a larger staffing strategy for longevity, as opposed to just a fill-in-the-gaps type of solution. So when you sign on, especially with a managed service provider that’s providing you these services, it’s kind of like having an insurance policy. If you run into a staffing crisis, you have somebody you can fall back on who has access to talent and can bring you the talent you need when you need it, instead of having to scramble and call 10 or 15 agencies yourself — and find out everyone else is doing that same scramble. I think it’s important to know we don’t have to wait for the next pandemic to have the next staffing crisis.

Of course, we hope there’s nothing ever like the pandemic again but there are always surges needed for different areas in staffing, and particularly in nursing. Let’s talk a little bit about what’s on the horizon in terms of health care recruitment and staffing.

The staffing shortages are not going to go away overnight, and I think as nurse leaders we need to start to really think outside the box. We need to look at new nursing models of care that help promote a good work-life balance for health care workers but also help them work at the top of their licensure so we can best maximize the benefit we’re getting from those employees who are here and showing up for work.

I think that because we’re having that acumen and clinical expertise leaving the bedside, we sometimes need to look at these supplemental staffing agencies as a friend versus a foe, as somebody that can help to support us, to bring in that clinical expertise our new nurses can lean on. As nurses are coming out of nursing school, we’re seeing a little difference in the level of knowledge since the pandemic because they’ve had a little less clinical experience during their nursing school programs. So we want to be able to best support them so they’re successful in their endeavors.

You know as we do that several federal agencies including VA are really looking at how to improve that work-life balance for nursing, and so staffing and recruitment agencies can come in and provide some ideas as they relate to that area.

Exactly. And a lot of the nurse questionnaires show they really want to have flexible schedules. Some of them don’t want the 12-hour shifts anymore. As you have nurses who are starting to age into retirement, you’re sometimes able to bring some of that clinical experience back by offering them shorter shifts that work around their schedules. I encourage people to be innovative and think outside the box. Instead of just the 12-hour shifts, think about four-hour shifts. Think about how you can use virtual nursing or AI to help supplement — and again, with the virtual nursing, it’s a great opportunity for somebody who’s not able to work in the health care environment to be able to share their clinical expertise at the bedside.

We touched a little bit on AI, but can you talk a little bit about predictive analytics? Is there something there that can help us understand opportunities for PRN, or as-needed staffing support?

With some of the predictive analytics, I think you’re going to start to see that more in the marketplace from a staffing perspective, where it looks at trends in both patient acuity and in volume — and helps predict what staffing needs and metrics will be over a period of time. So you can say, “I need more nurses on a Sunday night,” versus on a Tuesday morning. I think those kinds of things will help us be a little more proactive with staffing in the future.

What else do we need to be thinking about in terms of recruitment and staffing at federal agencies, particularly at VA?

I think from an overall perspective, as far as recruitment, we need to create environments that nurses want to come to work in. So again, when we talked about building those professional practice environments, when you talk about being on the journey to Magnet or Pathway to Excellence or even high reliability, all of those have an opportunity for nurses to have a say and autonomy in practice. So I think that those types of opportunities really lend themselves well to creating those environments where we’re able to better recruit and retain those nurses.


Thank you so much for your time today and for sharing your wealth of knowledge. And thank you for your dedication to improving health care quality, safety and access across workforce solutions.

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