Name Your Price
Online scheduling systems allow staff nurses to bid on open shifts
Heather World Nurses and patients tackle nicotine addiction
Surgical techniques to use when transfusion drops out of the equation In a typical shift bidding setup, prequalified nurses, such as Jim Hardin, an RN at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System in North Carolina, can peruse open shifts through the Internet. Nurses may bid only on the facility in which they work, but they may bid on any unfilled shift if they have the credentials, which are spelled out in detail next to the bid. They are asked—but not limited—to bid on shifts in their own units first.When Jim Hardin, RN, creates a work schedule to accommodate the demands of his four-child family, he doesn’t hash it out with his manager six weeks in advance. Instead, a week or two before, he sits down at his computer and bids on open shifts in a new system being used by a growing number of health care employers.“My family situation is not conducive to a straight day shift or night shift,” said Hardin, who works for Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System in North Carolina. “Sometimes I have to have time off with relatively short notice.”Shift bidding systems have become the latest incentive to recruit nurses in a tight labor market and a way to cut costs. Some nurses say the system gives them more control over their schedules and better pay. Executives say the system saves money spent on agency nurses and the supplemental pay meant to entice employees to fill last-minute open shifts. Critics call the system a Band-Aid that fails to address the growing nursing shortage.“You never get bored,” said Hardin, who had spent the past week going from pediatrics to neurology to the heart center. “I’m developing my skills in the manner I want to.”In a typical shift bidding setup, prequalified nurses who log on to Spartanburg’s system through the Internet can peruse open shifts. Nurses may bid only on the facility in which they work, but they may bid on any unfilled shift if they have the credentials, which are spelled out in detail next to the bid. They are asked—but not limited—to bid on shifts within their own units first.The top rate of pay is set at a price less than the total cost of an agency nurse but near the rate an agency nurse would earn. Hours worked through the bidding system do not count toward an employee’s benefits.Bids are taken within a posted time frame, much like bids on the online auctioneer eBay. But in a reverse of the standard auction, nurses bid down in 50-cent increments. The lowest bidder wins the shift and is notified through e-mail. Managers have the discretion to override the bidding process if an unqualified nurse has won the shift.Working eight or nine shifts every two weeks (plus one day a week for the float pool), Hardin has nearly doubled his income, he said.“It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” he said.Spartanburg developed the system to encourage its own nurses to cover extra shifts rather than picking up hours at other hospitals, and to decrease use of agency nurses, said Darby Douglas, RN, Spartanburg’s RN staffing coordinator.Offering up extra shifts to inhouse nurses saves an average of $10,000 per week, Douglas said. The average winning bid, between $35 and $39 an hour, costs $14 to $20 an hour less than the fee for an agency nurse. The system fills more than 300 shifts per two-week pay period, she said.“Since we started a newer version, we’ve done without crisis pay and double crisis pay,” Douglas said, referring to the additional money she must offer to entice Spartanburg nurses to work extra shifts.Nursing agencies, which stand to be the most adversely affected by the new system, do not express much concern. The nurse shortage that leads to open shifts is still growing, said Michelle Catalano, RN, of Medical Staffing Network, the placement agency used by Spartanburg.“They are starting an auction, but that doesn’t mean they are hiring nurses,” Catalano said. “It’s the same people, but they’re just working them harder.”Spartanburg has gone from being the biggest to the smallest client for Catalano’s branch of Medical Staffing Network, she said. Nonetheless, the company is big. Its 200 branches supply other types of medical staff as well as nurses, and its well-trained nurses will always be in demand, especially as the shortage grows, she said.