How to Tackle Staffing Challenges When Setting Up a COVID-19 Vaccination Site

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Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Martin Hartshorne, CEO, When I Work

Since the FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020, communities across the United States have been rolling out thousands of vaccination sites as more and more people have been able to get inoculated against this virus. In early April 2021, President Joe Biden announced his goal to have all U.S. adults eligible to get the vaccine by April 19, which will include continuously ramping up the number of sites administering vaccines.

The good news: The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law in March, provides funding to create a national COVID-19 vaccination program, including the establishment of thousands of community vaccination centers across the country.

The challenging news for health care and government organizations tasked with quickly setting up those centers? Scheduling thousands of clinical professionals and volunteers to staff sites, especially as a growing influx of eligible people clamber for inoculations.

Over the past several weeks, our team at When I Work has helped many organizations with vaccine site setup and operations — from private health care systems to public counties with thousands of workers administering vaccines to tens of millions of people across multiple locations.

“Vaccine sites are unique customers because they need to build everything from the ground up at a breakneck pace,” said Megan Kaufenberg, a customer success manager at When I Work. “They want staff scheduling for hundreds or thousands of workers, and they need it up and running in days, not weeks or months. Quick, painless, and fee-less implementation has always been a strength of When I Work. We’re finding ourselves joining the fight with them, and it’s inspiring our team.”

Regardless of what kind of organization is handling vaccine distribution, staffing is one area that can make everything run smoothly — or go off the rails. As thousands of medical professionals and volunteers have stepped up across the country to work at vaccine sites, here are When I Work’s best tips to achieve staffing success.

Flexible Self-Scheduling

Our most successful vaccination center clients use flexible self-scheduling, which allows team members to choose what open shifts they want versus a manager assigning shifts to specific individuals or teams. This method not only saves managers time, but a large number of vaccine site staffers tend to be at-will workers, including retired RNs, agency clinical professionals and everyday volunteers. Flexible self-scheduling allows these employees to dictate for themselves when and how much they want to work.

Managing flexible self-scheduling manually can be challenging and slow, so technology that allows managers to develop and manage a shift schedule from their mobile devices can be an incredible time-saver. Using a mobile or cloud-based app, managers can easily define scheduling needs based on personnel qualifications, location and anticipated demand. Once shift coverage needs are established, workers can view open shifts on their personal device and select their preferred hours. Any unclaimed shifts can be assigned after everyone’s had a chance to choose, and employees also have the ability to swap shifts with each other later.

Overall, flexible scheduling allows workers to have more ownership over their work hours. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, When I Work has seen flexible self-scheduling adoption increase 10-fold among our customers, which demonstrates just how useful this method is — especially during times of high stress and uncertainty in the workplace.

Team Communication

For the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic, unexpected change has been a constant. With vaccine sites constantly ramping up to accommodate more and more eligible Americans, good team communication is key to keep staff members aware of new procedures, schedule changes and more.

However, with social distancing, a large number of staff, and multiple locations to manage, communication might not be as easy as getting everyone in a room together to give updates. Messaging technology, like an app, can play a key role here.

When there’s a need to convey critical information, communicating via a single technology platform enables supervisors to inform all staffers in real time. Additionally, moving all non-essential in-person communication to a messaging app gives workers a direct line to their co-workers and supervisors.

Discussions about last-minute changes, new information to share with patients, daily task lists and more can all be handled safely and quickly via mobile app. Overall, committing to a digital form of staff communication can save your team time, which they can devote back to patients.

I know that adopting new technology can feel like an insurmountable, time-consuming challenge for many health care teams who have been stretched thin by an overwhelming last 12 months. But implementing technology into your staffing can save significant amounts of time and help your team operate more efficiently.

At this crucial time, vaccine site administrators should search for technology partners that can prioritize implementation speed, easy-to-use software and high-quality customer service. 

Your team is doing enough taking on the giant task of vaccinating millions of Americans. Staff scheduling should be the least of your worries, and technology companies, like When I Work, are eager to help make this process the easiest task on your to-do list.

Martin Hartshorne is CEO of When I Work, a market leader in hourly workforce management that provides a fully integrated scheduling, time tracking, and team messaging solution to nearly 200,000 workplaces.