The Healthcare World is Burnt out and Short-Staffed: Addressing turnover in healthcare

The pressures of the modern healthcare environment, coupled with unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic, have led to an alarming increase in national burnout among healthcare workers. The high turnover rates across all healthcare and education industries (doctor’s offices, hospitals, nursing homes, therapy clinics, schools, and more) are both the cause and consequence of an exhausted workforce struggling to keep up with an increasingly fragile healthcare system. Presented with these external challenges, Reach for the Top Therapy Services, the only therapy clinic in the Dover, NH, area offering trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming therapies, has doubled down on employee well-being initiatives to support itss team while promoting resilience and continuing to support high-quality care.  

Burnout and turnover are a vicious cycle 

Burnout is a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and detachment from work and personal life. The demanding nature of healthcare work makes this a pervasive problem in the industry, as many healthcare workers find themselves working long hours, battling compassion fatigue (where they feel for their patients as they work through their struggles and challenges), and often struggling to find a work-life balance. 

Furthermore, the global pandemic brought to light the vulnerabilities of healthcare systems worldwide.   According to the 2023 NSI National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report, the hospital turnover rate is at 22.7%, compared to 19.5% in 2020. 

The ripple effects of high turnover rates in the healthcare industry are far-reaching, especially for local organizations like Reach. Not only are patients affected by long waitlists and potential disruptions to their care, but healthcare institutions also suffer financially, as recruiting, hiring, and training new staff is costly, especially for a non-profit organization focused on mentorship and extensive training to offer many quality specialty programs. Moreover, the loss of experienced professionals with the great resignation, undermined the knowledge base and expertise, though Reach has been able to keep four therapists with over 10 years of experience each and several with 2-5 years in their fields. 

How to reduce turnover in healthcare spaces 

Having also experienced a surge in medical leaves in the period surrounding the pandemic, Reach is addressing the burnout and turnover crisis head-on: by implementing a multi-faceted approach that proactively addresses root causes and provides comprehensive support to its team of therapists.  

Workload Management

Prioritizing workload management is a key way to prevent excessive stress in the workforce. To this effect, Reach established a 6-week formal mentorship designed to help each therapist build a caseload while learning more about the organization’s core values and therapeutic standards.  At full capacity, a schedule rate of 80% working time, means that the team gets a paid lunch break,  planned documentation time, and weekly Team Time where all members of the team are available to support one another. During Team Time they focus on collaboration and connection, which may include working on projects, playing games, and de-stressing with yoga, a walk, connection-based activities or programming where every staff member is free simultaneously. To promote a supportive work environment focused on interdisciplinary care, support, and quality outcomes, Reach leadership started a Monthly Case-Care Collaboration initiative where therapists actively work through difficult cases, provide second opinions, additional resources and suggestions, and a community of support. Reach has guest speakers come in regularly to discuss important topics like: AAC, Selective Mutism, Trauma Informed Care, DEI, Neurodiveristy and more.  They have weekly Lunch & Learns where a variety of topics from sleep, family-centered education, affirming approaches, social-emotional development and support, regulation, and feeding, for example are taught by experts in the field, community, and clinic. 

Supportive Team and Stress Inoculation  

Burnout is described as a perceptual disorder, based on one’s mindset, and perspective, as well as their practice of self-care, and with the right tools, support, balance, and resilience it can be overcome.  Providing resources is crucial for therapists. Reach promotes well-being at work by creating opportunities for team bonding in spaces designed for stress relief.  For example, our staff office is equipped with a zen garden sand table, singing bowl, metal drum, mandala coloring wall, blue lights, chocolate, coffee bar, and weekly prompts to connect.  These small personal touches matter to this team.  Additionally, Reach offers extra time off for those who choose to develop and run specialty passion projects and programs and annual increases in paid time off for loyalty to our organization, focused on ensuring team members get adequate time to disconnect and recharge.  We encourage staff to plan their week and schedules with what aligns with their personal and family needs and also offer flexible scheduling options when unexpected situations arise. Furthermore, to boost morale and foster team building, Reach organizes an Annual Holiday Party and an Annual Offsite Retreat. 

Workplace Culture 

Nurturing a positive and safe culture that promotes teamwork, with open communication, and mutual respect can go a long way in preventing burnout. The Reach senior and junior leadership team, as well as program leads, seek active feedback and have received consistently positive feedback that the team is authentic, honest, respectful, considerate, hard-working, supportive, consistent, and family-centered.  It takes active work and cultivation, with everyone, at every level, doing their part.  Two years ago Reach leadership began the practice of having employees complete communication profiles and practice adapting feedback based on preferred styles of communication amongst the team, valuing different styles, making room for all voices at the table, and improving overall communication.   

Also, the team recognizes hard work with the opportunity for weekly bonuses for high performers and referral bonuses for employees who refer other high-quality practitioners to join the team.  

Education and Training 

Continuous education and training not only keep employees up-to-date with the latest research but also empower them with the skills needed to navigate fast-paced and high-stress situations effectively. Reach is committed to investing in the continued education of its therapists – in 2022, each therapist took anywhere from 30 to 200 continuing education credits to further develop their skills. The organization is also leveraging weekly Lunch & Learns with internal and external guest speakers, or virtual conferences, to create regular learning opportunities. Through its junior leadership program, Reach offers therapists who desire to take on greater challenges outside of typical therapy-based growth opportunities for advancement into leadership, which not only grows the therapists but the organization with diverse perspectives.  At all levels of the organization, each member participates in mentorship, 1:1 support, and goal planning to ensure each person’s growth is valued and ensure the team is contributing towards meeting Reach’s mission. 

Leadership Support 

Leaders in healthcare need to prioritize the well-being of their teams and create a culture of support and empathy where they lead by example. Beyond emphasizing the importance of work-life balance, Reach helps employees remain motivated and satisfied at work by encouraging them to pursue and lead passion projects that align with community needs. Over the past years, the organization has made a conscious effort to develop a workplace culture where everyone can thrive. In fact, 88% of employees report significant improvement in team culture including communication, values, and respect since 2022, and 100% agree with significant improvements following leadership and operational changes implemented at the end of 2021.  The organization implemented feedback received over the years and in the 2023 survey, improved its scores in employee satisfaction in every area; as this leadership team commits significant time to employee wellbeing and overall leadership practices.  

Burnout and turnover in healthcare remain one of the most urgent challenges for professionals and organizations in the sector. By addressing the underlying causes of burnout and turnover, and promoting healthy work environments, healthcare organizations like Reach can ensure the well-being of their workforce, improve patient outcomes, and contribute to the resilience of the healthcare system. The clinic’s ability to overcome post-pandemic challenges remains an invaluable resource for the Dover, NH, community. Reach’s commitment to empowering patients through quality trauma-informed and neurodiverse affirming care, specialty programs, community partnerships, and a dedicated team, will continue to guide its journey toward making a lasting impact on children and families in NH.  

Reach’s team demonstrates day in and day out that they are committed to helping each child and each employee become their best self while focusing on their strengths and overcoming barriers to success.  If you are looking for the opportunity to change lives and are open to having your life change in positive ways too, apply to join Team Reach!