I recently attended the American College of Health Care Administrators Convocation and was very intrigued by the session on Lean in long term care. While the presentation provided a solid overview, I was dismayed when the presenter mentioned that after an initial lean deployment, a nursing home operator eliminated almost 15% of its staff due to efficiencies gained.
In LTPAC, where margins are constantly being squeezed, there is always temptation to make cuts as soon as capacity allows. Acuity-based staffing, albeit temporary, is a symptom of this practice. Unfortunately, cutting staff first puts short-term financial gains ahead of long-term value creation, and stifles an organization’s ability to innovate practices and lean value into operations. It also creates an adversarial atmosphere where management constantly tries to limit costs and employees try to protect jobs no matter the cost to the organization– both without regard to what’s best for residents!
“We’ve also made a commitment to our staff that there will be no layoffs related to this work. This frees them to concentrate on process improvements without worrying about continued employment. Once staff have the opportunity to experience the power and potential VMPS holds for our organization, they are excited to use the tools to improve work in their own areas.” – J. Michael Rona, President, Virginia Mason Medical Group
At the beginning of a lean journey, it’s crucial that organizations commit to a “No Layoff” policy, as Virginia Mason did when first bringing lean into healthcare. Without such a commitment, it is nearly impossible to engage front-line staff in identifying opportunities to eliminate waste, since staff will more likely be interested in protecting their jobs rather than leaning themselves out of one. Fortunately, there are numerous areas where labor can be redeployed to improve quality, increase offerings and otherwise contribute to enhancing revenue and decreasing costs (long-term value creation). What’s more, because lean places such an emphasis on the resident at the center of the value process, employees better understand that they work for the residents and the organization as a whole, rather than individual departments and silos that is all too often the reality in current environments; this makes the process of labor redeployment much easier.
Through the process of attrition, sometimes workgroups themselves will step forward and indicate that a position might not need to be refilled. In these cases, redeploying the wage resources into existing employees can be an effective way to enhance recruitment and retention, particularly in low-wage positions, and organizations oftentimes see savings almost immediately in lower turnover costs and higher productivity yields.
One of my first lean projects involved such an approach. By combining two separate food-service programs on a campus into a single entity, and redesigning workflows to maximize efficiency of different job classifications, we were able to begin a 24-hour dining program and raise staff wages while still creating $50,000 of hard cost savings in the first year.
A “No Layoff” policy is a crucial underpinning of the beginning of a lean journey, and embodies a true respect for people that is so critical to the success of any lean endeavor.