Budgeting for a nursing department requires a good bit of give and take even in “normal” times. Right now doesn’t qualify as “normal,” even as we hopefully head toward the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That means that budgeting for nursing is even more challenging. How can you create a budget that provides what’s needed for your team, meets patient needs—and gets C-Suite approval?

Nancy May, Chief Nurse Executive for Michigan Health; Mary Fagan, Vice President of Patient Service and Chief Nursing Officer at Rady Children’s Hospital; and Tracy Gosselin, Chief Nursing & Patient Care Services Officer at Duke University Hospital, recently discussed this topic with Tipton Health Executive Nursing Consultant Mary Del Guidice during our March 16 Nursing Leadership webinar.

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The Pandemic’s Effect on Budgeting
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives in the last year. Nowhere is that more evident than in the healthcare industry.

Healthcare providers were forced to essentially drop everything non-COVID-19 and focus on delivering care during a crisis. Nurses and nurse leaders faced increased challenges as a result, many of which directly impact current and future budgeting:

  • Transition and volatility in staffing
  • Acquisition of PPE and increased budgetary needs for it
  • Lower patient census numbers, but increased need for hands-on care
  • Need for nurses to perform roles outside normal responsibilities

Because of the intensive and evolving care needs of COVID-19 patients, lower-paid jobs, such as respiratory therapists, played a pivotal role in the provision of care. During the course of the pandemic, many people in those positions left their current jobs or healthcare altogether, requiring healthcare organizations to backfill these critical roles. In the interim, nurses often needed to handle some of those responsibilities, taking them away from other tasks.

How can nurse leaders navigate these challenges when budgeting? In the immediate future, it’s all about recognizing that change is inevitable, setting “big picture” plans aside temporarily as needed, and keeping the focus on the present in a shorter-term budget.

That last point may be especially important as we navigate the immediate future without knowing many factors, such as how many people will be vaccinated (and when) and how COVID-19 variants may affect the population. Without a crystal ball to help you plan, it may be easier and more effective to plot out your budgetary needs on a quarterly basis, rather than for a full year.

Gaining C-Suite Approval
When it comes to obtaining approval from those in leadership at your organization, it’s ultimately all in how you sell your budget.

There’s a good saying that “the qualitative informs the quantitative, and the quantitative informs the qualitative.” In other words, you need both the data and a compelling story to demonstrate your budgetary needs.

You have to tell your story in a compelling way—helping your CFO and other leaders develop a clear understanding of what your nursing team needs, how it impacts patient care, and why it ultimately matters. That involves breaking down relevant data in a clear and concise way that identifies what the data means from a leadership perspective.

It’s also important to ensure you’re staying aware of overall challenges your hospital and health system are facing and the dynamics of healthcare as a whole. Use predictive analytics when available to scope out what to anticipate and how care needs might change.

On a simpler basis, pose a few overarching questions to yourself and to your nurses:

  • Has this pandemic changed how we’re going to provide care moving forward?
  • Is our emergency department [or some other pertinent department/service] going to need to be so big, or will telecare fill the gap?
  • Do we need to take a look at greater support for the provision of remote/telehealth services?
  • Should nursing support shift from one service or department to another?

Keeping your budget requests in line with changing times—such as the shift from in-person to telemedicine care—can help make it more likely your budget will receive the greenlight.

Building a meaningful relationship with your CFO is also an important part of relaying your budgetary needs. Ask questions that help you understand his or her perspective and come armed with answers to questions your CFO may potentially ask.

Ultimately, you’re working collaboratively to support your staff and ensure you have a healthy work environment that supports patient health and wellness.

Learn More From Our Speakers
Visit Tiptonhealth.com/webinars/ to view our on-demand webinar video about the pandemic’s effects on nursing budgets.

Tipton’s next webinar, Reduce the High Cost of Travelers! Adopt a Long-Term Strategy to Stabilize Staffing, will be held on April 13, 2021, from 12:30–1 p.m. EST.