AHA: Nurse execs weigh in on ways to aid pressing workforce issues

As patient volumes increase, the nursing workforce is becoming even more stretched and hospital leaders are scrambling to find ways to meet the demand despite ongoing nurse turnover and attrition, experts said during an Aug. 29 webinar hosted by the American Hospital Association.

Burnout from the increased demand and shortage of nurses to support it is also an issue that continues to plague this sector of the workforce, leaders explained. 

And while many challenges that hospitals in rural and urban settings may face differ, the challenge to fully staff nurse openings, provide quality care and prevent burnout simultaneously is what they have in common.

What is really key right now for hospital leaders is to understand that across the board health systems are "seeing recruitment pipelines really struggling with nurses entering the workforce, — even for those who completed their programs through the pandemic there [are] significant gaps in knowledge and being able to have that hands-on experience that they otherwise would have had," Felicia Sadler, BSN, RN, the vice president of quality at Relias said during the webinar. "So, when we think about transitioning new nurses and supporting them in that way, it is important to be able to address the existing workforce around stress and burnout, and continue thinking innovatively about new ways and approaches."

Here are three ways these nurse leaders are taking steps to improve these ongoing challenges facing the nursing workforce: 

  1. Embracing internationally trained nurses in rural care settings is helping fill some of the empty positions and reintroducing LPNs into the inpatient setting so that the limited number of RNs can perform the tasks that only they can do. That helps redistribute some of their workload and has worked at Norwalk, Ohio-based Fisher-Titus Medical Center, Jason Gahring, MSN, RN, the vice president of ambulatory nursing said.

  2. To address burnout, Debra Burke, DNP, RN, the chief nurse at Boston-based Massachusetts General Brigham, said it has prioritized bringing joy back to their work by allowing departments to submit grants for wellness activities. Most submissions were not for individual activities, but rather team bonding like a bowling and pickleball tournaments or attendance at sports events, she said.
  3. Allowing teams to have autonomy over staffing schedules and how they choose to manage time off requests is also a strategy that Dr. Burke shared. She said it has helped Massachusetts General Brigham focus on retention in addition to deliberately working with nurse leaders on deliberation about key decision-making processes that will affect their teams.

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