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Facilities Home » Healthcare Strike Whitepaper

Healthcare Strike Whitepaper

Preparation is the Key Element in successful operations.

As a Crisis Management Consultant I work with many businesses from a variety of industries. My main area of expertise as a clinician and a patient advocate is in providing services for labor disputes in the healthcare industry.

Healthcare is an industry that has many specific considerations that are far more complex than manufacturing, distribution, etc. That is because the health and welfare of each person as a patient is at stake 24/7.

It is my intent to discuss business continuity planning and the provision of those services in this document specifically for healthcare organizations.

Getting Started:

This seems to be the most difficult issue with most organizations. There are many questions that immediately come to mind such as:

  • How soon should we start planning?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • Do we have an existing plan and if so when was it last updated?
  • What questions and preparations do we need to address?
  • How will a work stoppage impact our ability to provide services?
  • What resources are available to ensure operations?
  • How do I select a nurse strike staffing agency?
  • Moving from planning to operations

Many of the answers are quite obvious. You cannot start the planning process too soon. Anything can be accomplished with appropriate planning but this takes time. I cannot emphasize enough the necessity to allow adequate time.

Regardless of which bargaining unit contract is in question all facets of your organization will be impacted so all department managers must be involved. I recommend structuring your contingency planning in a tiered manner. You have good managers or they would not be managers so let them take possession of their departments concerns. You do need to provide them with appropriate direction and establish timelines for delivery of information and the parts of the puzzle you are depending on from them.

Most healthcare organizations have an Emergency Operations Plan. It includes establishment of an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and with that a vast majority of your planning is already incorporated. Revisiting this plan and updating it regularly is time well spent. The work you are doing is a good set of marching orders moving forward regardless of the situation. Your plan should provide for all possibilities such as a work stoppage by various bargaining units, natural disaster, terror threat, etc. A review of your existing plan by an outside resource is always recommended. If your consultant isn’t offering this service you should consider a different consultant.

Utilizing an outside consultant provides you with an objective view of your current state of preparedness. It is easy to become adjusted to “things as they are”. It is our natural tendency to become complacent or as I have heard said in the past, “If it works, don’t fix it”. This is actually pretty good advice to use in the contingency planning process and review but we should never use this advice as an ongoing business model. A good consultant will stimulate your team with thought provoking questions developed from an outside view of your organization as well as provide you with a template to assist you through the process.

Curtailing services during a labor dispute may be an option but that equates to a census decline and lost revenues. Many patients who are diverted will remain that way following the conclusion of the work stoppage. There is no need to curtail services with appropriate planning. However, it is imperative to allow your staffing provider adequate time to recruit, screen and credential the exact personnel that you will need. Keep in mind that you operate 24/7 which means you do not have the luxury of an interim period to exchange or train personnel.

There are many nurse strike staffing providers that operate under normal circumstances. You will require an organization with a proven track record in maintaining business continuity for their clients experiencing a labor dispute. If the organization you are screening does not provide a complete line of services to include consulting, staffing, security, vendor management and legal compliance you need to keep looking. There are only a handful of agencies nationwide that can step up to the plate for healthcare labor disputes.

There are distinct laws governing healthcare labor disputes. As patient care is at stake all unions are required to provide a ten day notice of intent to strike allowing the healthcare organization the ability to enact their operational plan. Do not mistake this ten day period as a part of the planning process. This ten day period initiates the enactment of an already prepared and well organized operations plan. Planning should move directly to operations at this point. Flexibility is always required due to variables that cannot be foreseen but should be no more than an adaption of an existing plan for maintaining business continuity.

I have never experienced overt contingency planning pushing a bargaining unit to a walk out. However it has been my experience that overt contingency planning coupled with the use of a known expert in this area will avert a possible walk out 9 out of 10 times. A solid contingency plan along with having secured a reliable resource that will work with you in all facets of preparations for a labor dispute provides a strong position at the bargaining table. When taking a proactive approach you will find that the time and expense spent on the front end is one of the best investments a healthcare organization can make. It will always far out weigh the expense of a labor dispute.

Hank Weaver, R.N.

Crisis Management Consultant
Senior Director – Healthcare Services Division
Huffmaster Crisis Response