Changes to a Staffing Model During a Pandemic

By Adrienne Miller, PharmD

July 10, 2020

As Operations Manager for a hospital Pharmacy Department, these past few months have been a whirlwind as we adapted to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Since mid-March, we went into high gear to swiftly adopt new, hospital-level protocols and make changes in our own department that reflected those guidelines. New safety guidelines, PPE, changing our workflows and staffing levels, all in the manner of a few weeks. Even with all this, we still tried to provide the best work-life balance possible for our associates.

From the get-go, high on our priority list was how these changes would affect our staff. Some of our earliest considerations included, “How can we provide our associates an opportunity to be home with their children and families, and minimize time at the hospital while still providing the same level of exceptional care?”

As we worked through this, at the same time we considered, “How do we take this opportunity to revamp our staffing model for the future?”

Prior to COVID-19, we were using a cloud-based solution called StaffReady Scheduling for all of our staff scheduling needs. All of our associates were scheduled for eight hour shifts and 80 hours per pay period. Using StaffReady tremendously decreased the amount of time spent managing the schedule compared to prior days using a spreadsheet.

Due to the pandemic, we needed to rapidly implement staffing changes. We started by creating a temporary model where our associates were working three consecutive 12-hour shifts and then off for four consecutive days on a weekly schedule to support much needed work-life balance.

In real-time, we were constantly evaluating this model and making adjustments as needed in two-week increments, all based on hospital volume and acuity. I chose to trial temporary schedules in a spreadsheet. Once we settled on a plan, the changes were made in StaffReady, saving us valuable time over manual edits to a spreadsheet.

To our surprise, staff really enjoyed this new schedule with longer shifts and fewer days. Many expressed interest in maintaining the current model of 12-hour shifts, however, this was not a viable option as it automatically created overtime which was not budget-friendly. It also forced our team to use PTO each pay period as they were not scheduled for their full 80 hours.

We had considered longer shifts in the past, but the change would have been drastic, seemingly not worth the disruption in a busy pharmacy. The specific interest had been around 10-hour shifts. The pandemic had just forced a rapid use-case of alternative scheduling; why not make a slight adjustment and give the model more permanent consideration?

We received broad, positive feedback during the planning and transition process in which we polled team members for feedback. We created mock schedules and ran through a variety of scenarios until we had a workable plan.

In the end, over 90% of the group chose to transition to 10-hours shifts. The revised information was easily adjusted in StaffReady Scheduling, and edits to the software were easy for shift name changes, shift times and updated availability based on preferences.

Some associates have expressed a desire to have their shifts grouped together while others prefer them separated. Our philosophy is to honor as many custom requests as possible though not always realistic. Any changes we need to make to the schedule are often done w/ a few easy clicks in StaffReady. It’s nice to be back full-time again with StaffReady Scheduling, a tool that saves our organization hours in time spent scheduling, employee interactions and vacation tracking.

For our organization, the pandemic brought extraordinary pressures on the pharmacy, but our staff has responded admirably to the challenge. One silver lining will be the unexpected opportunity to review our staffing model and create a long-term, sustainable plan for our team of pharmacists and technicians.

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(photo credit: Volodymyr Hryshchenko)

Adrienne Miller, PharmD

Adrienne Miller, PharmD is the Operations Manager for the Pharmacy Department and Milk and Formula Room at a prominent children’s hospital in the Northeast where she has worked for 15 years. She particularly enjoys being directly involved with process improvement projects and associate engagement initiatives. Adrienne is a graduate of Philadelphia College of Pharmacy at University of the Sciences, and resides in Delaware with her husband and two children.