U of T Engineering team develops redeployment tool to optimize hospital staffing amid COVID-19

U of T Engineering researchers have developed Redeploy, a tool that optimizes and automates the matching of available staff to jobs that need to be filled throughout the hospital.

As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches its peak in Ontario, staffing needs in hospitals in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) have rapidly changed. Researchers, nurses, and other hospital staff may need to be reassigned to areas of urgent need. For example, in many hospitals, door screener positions — staff screening for symptoms at hospital entrances — have been created, while COVID-19 research has quickly risen to the top of the priority list, and more workers are needed in critical care.

Instead of a person reading through staff profiles and job descriptions to make matches, Redeploy uses mathematical optimization techniques, taking into account shift hours, skills, human resources requirements, and staff preferences.

“Redeploy allows for urgent needs to be met and places staff into roles fairly and equitably,” says Professor Timothy Chan (MIE), who is leading the project with a team of graduate students. “For example, the tool can be tailored to only place a staff member on an overnight, weekend shift once a month and spread out those less-desirable hours amongst staff.”

“The tool processes all of the data and can complete complex matches much more quickly and, potentially, more accurately,” adds Chan.

Leveraging the longstanding relationship between the Data Science Program at the University Health Network (UHN) and U of T’s Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering (MIE), Chan and his team of graduate students were able to quickly begin building Redeploy at the end of March.

Chan and his team are currently partnered with UHN and Unity Health Toronto. Pilot testing is expected to commence soon and Chan is hopeful hospitals will be able to begin integrating Redeploy into their reassignment processes shortly thereafter.

“As we may be faced with a second wave of COVID-19, I am hoping that this tool will be highly beneficial,” said Eric Beaudoin, Director, People Strategy & Innovation at UHN, “Outside of our COVID-19 response, Redeploy will allow for a quick turnaround in the future when it comes to larger redeployment of a group of staff, for example, when opening a new unit, augmenting staffing ratios or when faced with an immediate request for a group of specialized resources.”

Redeploy could also play a critical role in Ontario’s COVID-19 action plan for long-term care homes. As long-term care homes emerge as the frontline in the fight against the virus more resources are needed. With minor modifications Redeploy could find available health-care workers and place them in long-term care homes with urgent staffing needs.

“It’s nice to know that the work you are doing will be used to mitigate some of the stress that the health system is currently feeling, and hopefully allow for better care during these times and going forward,” says Frances Pogacar (MIE MAsc candidate).

“The best thing about Redeploy is that our team can help in a way that lends itself to our own skill set as engineers, says Craig Fernandes (MIE MASc candidate), adding that the tight deadlines and urgency of the project made it a challenging but very rewarding experience. “We all have a part to play in fighting this virus and I currently have the privilege of playing a small part in helping optimize health-care operations.”

Visit www.redeploy.ca to view a demo or to learn how to partner with the Redeploy team.

– This story was originally published on the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering News Site on April 23, 2020 by Lynsey Mellon

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