The Importance of FTEs for Pandemic Preparedness

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By Michael Burgett

Well before the coronavirus pandemic swept through the U.S., healthcare facilities constantly worked to balance, and re-balance, the number of full-time employees (FTEs) on staff with contractors. How many FTEs were enough without over-complicating departments? How many contractors were too many to respond to on-site emergencies? Unfortunately, it’s not a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all formula – but there is a method to it.

Full-time employees and contractors must be determined on an environment-by-environment basis. The larger a healthcare system is, the more complicated the method becomes to measure, but it is worth examining per building to have the right balance of employees. The ideal number of FTEs is calculated after reviewing a variety of factors, including:

  • the age of the building,
  • infrastructure within a building,
  • number of buildings on a healthcare campus, and
  • the type of care each facility provides.

For example, a 1,000-bed acute care hospital built in 2004 and operating 24/7 will have different FTE needs than a medical office building (MOB) with ten offices that only runs on an 8-hour day Monday-Friday. 

These factors must be analyzed with the overall square footage of each facility to calculate the required number of FTEs to maintain and deliver best-in-class service integrity. For example, a system with facilities across the U.S. may see an average of one FTE for every 36,000 square feet of space. Smaller or larger facilities could see more or less depending on the services they provide. Regardless, the appropriate number can only be predicted after performing individual assessments for each and every facility within the system.

While the balance of FTEs and contractors may have previously been nice-to-know information, it became clear – quickly – that COVID-19 would impact emergency preparedness plans across the nation and around the globe.

Healthcare facilities are at the frontlines of fighting the virus, but it’s not just the doctors and nurses who would be severely impacted. The initial phase of response had to be data gathering to accurately plan for how maintenance technicians would work in tandem with clinical departments to execute a hospital’s mission safely for patients and staff.

Performing preventative maintenance in areas where COVID-19 patients would be treated would allow team members to work ahead of the curve. With full-time maintenance personnel on staff, hospital leaders are more readily able to conduct preventative maintenance to make rooms more comfortable for patients, as well as limit employees’ exposure to the virus and potential cross-contamination between clinical rooms.

This is not just important for infectious diseases, but any emergency or disaster that strikes. Working ahead of the storm means employees are able to focus on fixing what breaks during the event rather than balancing existing problems with new ones. It also allows contractors or other staff to perform preventative maintenance before an emergency, while saving FTEs for on-site issues that may arise during the event. 

As coronavirus continues to be a threat, prepared facilities can further educate their FTEs to provide layers of protection to and between maintenance personnel and clinical staff. For instance, PPE training on how to properly don and doff gear and regularly testing employees who have been working in coronavirus treatment areas ensures a facility’s staff and patients remain safe.

When facilities have the appropriate number of people to help execute emergency protection plans, there is a lot less scrambling and panic to ensure there are enough hands on deck. This provides the flexibility to meet new challenges and handle new developments as a crisis frequently changes. 

As the pressures of rising costs weigh on hospital leaders, it’s tempting to follow the path of ‘quick wins,’ such as reducing full-time staff. The facilities team is often first on the chopping block. However, those immediate savings to facilities’ bottom lines often end up becoming higher costs in the long run because facilities must depend on contracts to fill in the gaps. During a crisis, the additional layer of accessing third-party maintenance personnel will impact response speed, which is time facilities don’t have when disaster strikes.

About the Author 

Michael Burgett, Area Vice President for Medxcel, leans on his 20 years of experience in healthcare construction and design, site selection, facilities management, capital equipment sales and both operational and customer development to determine the right fit of FTEs in his region. Medxcel provides healthcare service support products and drives in-house capabilities, savings and efficiencies for healthcare organizations that, in turn, improve the overall healing environment for patients and staff.

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