7 chief nursing officers on their most pressing issues 

Hospital and health system chief nursing officers are focusing on nurse well-being and workforce retention as they head into the end of 2022. 

Becker's asked seven CNOs what their most pressing issues are for the remainder of the year.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Ann Gantzer, PhD. Chief Nursing Officer at UW Health (Madison, Wis.) in Northern Illinois: As a CNO, I am most concerned about the well-being of our nurses. We expect a lot out of our care teams and our nurses. But the pandemic created a lot of strain on all of them. As we progress beyond the early COVID-19 surges we have seen expanding patient needs, many with particularly high acuity, at the same time we've experienced a national shortage of nurses and other clinical staff. As a health system, we need to meet the needs of our patients, but we also need to provide the support that our nursing staff needs. One of the things we've focused heavily on is recruiting and retaining talented nurses, which requires some creativity and innovation in this labor market.  

D’Andre Carpenter, DNP, RN. Enterprise Chief Nursing Officer and Senior Vice President at UnityPoint Health (Des Moines, Iowa): At UnityPoint Health, we’re advancing our labor strategy to support nurses in truly innovative and transformative ways. Our teams represent four generations of nurses, and traditional approaches to retention, recruitment and clinical effectiveness don’t support the needs of a multigeneration workforce. We’re creating a professional practice environment that reignites the passion for nursing, celebrates the expertise of our experienced team members, and supports new RNs in their transition to practice and with pathways for advancement. We’re also focused an enterprise approach to nursing practice. Across the system, we’re identifying best practices and aligning our approach to ensure clinical effectiveness. These are critical initiatives for building a strong team of nurses, reducing dependency on contract labor, advancing quality and safety systems, and supporting the best outcomes for our patients.

Denise Murphy, BSN, RN. Chief Nurse Officer at BJC HealthCare (St. Louis): Our patient care workforce challenges existed long before 2020, were only magnified by the pandemic, and, unfortunately, are not likely to be resolved soon.

Recruitment and retention are our greatest priorities, which we are trying to address from multiple angles: people, tools and environment. On the people front, we must start recruiting long before college decisions are made, and reach communities where a college education seems out of reach. Offering students the vision of a career and a profession where they can support their families, by providing affordable or free education in exchange for a commitment to us, is a key strategy. We also must focus on retaining people by creating a culture that offers safety, high reliability and a true sense of belonging. 

We listen to feedback from our team members and they're telling us their priorities are work-life balance, compensation commensurate with the value they bring to their organizations and flexibility with the type of work they do and the hours they work. 

Additionally, younger team members want to advance quickly with concrete investments in their development and promotional opportunities. 

From a tools perspective, nurses need more support team members and virtual care delivery systems in a people-stretched environment. Virtual patient observers, better portable communication devices and in-the-moment flex shift scheduling apps are all part of the new workforce strategies we must employ. 

To create a thriving environment where caregivers want to stay means making it simpler because workload burden is one of the top reasons team members leave. Physical and psychological safety are equally important in an era where workplace violence is highly prevalent. In the end, I believe showing caregivers they are loved and appreciated for the heroic jobs they do is as impactful as other more expensive solutions.

Gay Landstrom, PhD, RN. Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Trinity Health (Livonia, Mich.): As CNO, my focus for the remainder of the year is on nurse and nursing support team retention, resilience, and recruitment. Like all health systems, the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging for our colleagues leading some nurses to leave the field entirely or retire early. At the same time, we are competing with other health systems and agencies to recruit nurses. To provide the best nursing experience possible, we are focused on new care models that allow nurses to practice at the top of their licenses, while also providing innovative ways to provide quality care. Through virtual opportunities for nurses, we can delay retirements and retain staff who want a different type of work-life balance. We are also continuing to focus on our in-house travel nurse program, FirstChoice. FirstChoice allows Trinity Health-employed nurses to have flexibility in their work schedule, care for our patients wherever there is a need, and allows us to reduce our need for external contracted labor.

Kevin Browne, DNP, RN. Senior Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nurse Executive at St. Joseph's Health (Paterson, N.J.): As chief nurse executive at St. Joseph's Health, I recognize that the overall well-being of all the nurses on my team is essential to good patient care.

To start, my top priorities remain post-pandemic staffing challenges and the emotional and physical wellbeing of our nurses. As we continue to see an exodus of tenured staff from traditional nursing roles, we are losing years of wisdom and experience from the bedside and mentorship opportunities for new nurses.

I believe the discipline at large is struggling to find joy in a profession that once gave us deep satisfaction. A reset is needed to reignite the discipline's passion. I remain committed to helping nurses find that joy again.

Maureen White, RN. Executive Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.): The health and well-being of Northwell Health's front-line team members remains a major focus area for the remainder of this year and foreseeable future. Our focus on stress reduction and resiliency building has helped to stem the tide of pandemic-related turnover. At the same time, it's proven to be a key element to our recruitment strategies. Through these efforts, we have been able to stabilize and grow our workforce, which has allowed us to increase access to care, as well as enhance population health efforts.

Meredith Foxx, MSN. Executive Chief Nursing Officer at Cleveland Clinic: Our top priority is always ensuring our teams are delivering the best possible care for our patients and that we have the resources to meet their needs. Our nurses play a critical role at the patient's bedside, and it is imperative that they feel valued and supported as part of the overall healthcare team.   

One of the biggest concerns hospitals across the country are facing right now is an unprecedented workforce shortage, which has only increased throughout the pandemic. We are working to recruit more highly-skilled registered nurses, LPNs and other support caregivers that are needed to meet the growing needs of patient care. It is equally important that we focus on retention by supporting our existing nurses with career development opportunities and well-being programs. We have also made significant investments in compensation and benefits to help attract new talent and retain our current nurses.  

Orla Brandos, DNP, MSN. Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer at Newport (R.I.) Hospital: Finding short- and long-term solutions to the nursing shortage is a main priority right now. The shortage existed before COVID and has only worsened over the last two years, as healthcare workers are leaving the field in droves. The threat to healthcare delivery and patient care cannot be understated. We urgently need to train and hire more nurses, while supporting and retaining our current dedicated nursing staff.

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