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Short-handed or short-sighted?

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Jean Wendland Century Oak Center
Jean Wendland Century Oak Center
  • Why do we expect holiday weekends to be challenging? Some facilities have a few days last year that were expected to be problematic, but why? Scheduling was more than adequate. The right people were committed to doing their jobs and doing them correctly. 

Could the issues be related to the perception of weakness on any weekend, but especially on the holiday?

Multiple choice: What is the worst comment that can be made to a resident or family

A. Your mom isn't doing well today
B. Our computers are broken
C. We ran out of towels
D. We had a call-off and are so short-handed today!

The answer is D. When we tell a family member or resident that we're short-handed, we're telling them that we do not have the resources to provide the appropriate care and all of the choices may be accurate.

Comments like this are said whether or not they're true. One person calls off, and suddenly the entire staff believe they're working short. With the rest of the staff in attendance and care delivered appropriately, there shouldn't be any issues. Why are some residents concerned? Because they are frequently told, by the front-line staff, “sorry, we're short-handed." The perception among the staff, families, and residents is that we are incompetent today.

When we communicate that we are having staffing issues, whether or not that communication is correct, we are telling the residents and their families that we can't do our jobs. We are telling them that we are not capable of delivering life-maintaining and possibly life-saving care because of the (true or false) perception of fewer staff on the clock. If you were the resident, how confident would you be that your care was a priority?

Ask yourself how you would react to the following:

  • You checked into a luxury hotel. You call the front desk and tell them that the sink is clogged. Their response is that they can't get to your problem today because “we're short-handed.”
  • You're at the grocery store. You're buying meat at the deli counter. The woman behind the counter says that she can't slice the ham for you because the guy who does that called off today. Come back tomorrow.
  • You're in the hospital. You didn't get your blood pressure meds since Thursday morning, and you're told that you're unlikely to get them today because a nurse called off, and the nurse who's there is too busy. Are you worried about your care?
  • You're admitted to the skilled nursing facility and you haven't been out of bed for three days because the nurse said that they're “short-handed” and you probably won't be out of bed until tomorrow. What would you do? Would you start making calls and find a facility that will take better care of you? I would.

One of our buildings is across the street from the hospital. Admissions should be easy, right? Except consider that there are four other SNFs and an LTACH within a two-mile radius of that hospital. The competition among these buildings is fierce and uncompromising. Just as we trust one business over another, our residents and potential residents are shopping for the best facility.

When we offer the excuse that we aren't delivering the proper care because of one or more call-offs, we are showing that we are neither worthy nor capable of delivering that care. 

Excuses for individual weaknesses are not acceptable and should not be allowed. There is never a time that it is supportable to convey to a resident or family member that because of a single call-off we can't take care of their needs. A true team will cover the missing person and the resident need never know that the call-off occurred. Service to our customers must be with intent; the delivery of treatment to those who need it most has to be with our best efforts and inspire confidence in our abilities, and not broadcast our potential weaknesses.

Jean Wendland Porter, PT, CCI, is the Regional Director of Therapy Operations at Diversified Health Partners in Ohio.


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