4 nurse leaders discuss Advocate Aurora Health's journey to workforce resilience — 4 takeaways

Hospitals can't deliver excellent patient care with balanced outcomes without effective staffing. Before the emergence of COVID-19, dedicated nurses everywhere worked hard to deliver high-quality care for patients — many under difficult circumstances. In 2020, the job of the nurse has only become more difficult, and more important. More than ever, hospitals and health systems need workforce management strategies that support nurses in the ways they need.

"People drive success," said Karlene Kerfoot, PhD, RN, FAAN, chief nursing officer with API Healthcare, now a part of symplr. "Everything in healthcare happens because of people. If we can support people in their work and help them do the things they were born to do, we can make sure we have great outcomes for patients."

On Sept. 24, Dr. Kerfoot opened a webinar featuring three nurse leaders from Advocate Aurora Health, which comprises 26 hospitals across Illinois and Wisconsin. During the webinar, the three leaders discussed the health system's approach to workforce management and the organization's repsonse to COVID-19.

The nurse leader participants from Advocate Aurora were:

  • Mary Beth Kingston, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, health system CNO
  • Margaret Gavigan, MSN, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, regional CNO and system vice president of clinical operations
  • Jane Dus, DNP, RN, NE-BC, regional CNO and system vice president of nursing education and professional development

The webinar was sponsored by symplr and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review. Here are four takeaways from the presentation.

1. Mission-driven staffing: Advocate Aurora Health has a staff of 75,000 team members, which includes more than 22,000 nurses. The system's leaders understand that nursing is essential to achieving the organization's mission, which is to "help people live well, and nursing is crucial to achieving that goal," said Dr. Kingston.

2. The right nurse at the right time: To achieve optimal patient outcomes and support nurse well-being, Advocate Aurora Health implements a staffing model — dubbed "effective staffing" — designed to support the tenets of the Quadruple Aim: achieve better outcomes, improve the patient experience,  lower costs and improve the clinician experience. Dr. Kingston defined effective nurse staffing as making sure the right nurse is available at the right time with right competencies at the right cost.

3. Staffing deconstructed: When the decision was made  to revamp its approach to staffing in 2016, leaders identified four areas of focus to optimize staffing levels for the best patient and operational outcomes. The areas of focus were shoring up the staffing budget, ensuring there were no gaps in the nursing schedule, creating a more efficient scheduling process and ensuring the available clinical resources matched demand. Leaders relied heavily on workforce management technology and staffing data to construct a pathway to achieve these goals.

"Staffing is really a mathematical complexity," Ms. Gavigan said. "When we started this work, we engaged a nurse scientist, a statistician and a linear programming expert to look at historical payroll and timekeeping data."

4. Achieving stability in a time of crisis: Advocate Aurora Health experienced significant surges of COVID-19 patients in both Illinois and Wisconsin in the early months of the pandemic. At the time of the webinar, the health system had seen more than 160,000 novel coronavirus patients across both states. In response to the pandemic, Advocate Aurora Health leveraged its established workforce management practices to meet challenges created by the virus. In both Illinois and Wisconsin, state governments relaxed nurse licensing requirements, allowing Advocate Aurora nurses to cross state lines and support each other where necessary.

"We had nurses from as far north as Sheboygan (Wis.) coming down to help our facilities in Chicago," Dr. Dus said. "It was a real team effort."

To learn more about symplr, click here. To view a recording of the webinar and additional resources, click here.

More articles on nursing:
How Yale New Haven increased ICU capacity by 75% amid pandemic
2 US nurses among Time magazine's most influential people of 2020
Tennessee nurse imposter worked for at least 8 healthcare providers

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