CommonSpirit embraces staffing summits

Staffing plans are a crucial component of workforce strategies at any hospital or health system. And at Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, front-line clinicians are consistently weighing in on these plans through summits.  

The summits, which started in 2022, occur at 20 hospitals CommonSpirit is now managing in Colorado, Kansas and Utah that were previously managed by Centennial, Colo.-based Centura Health. 

During listening sessions, clinicians were asked two questions: "How can we retain you?" and "How can we improve your practice environment?" 

"And midway through those sessions, we paused because at every one of the sessions, whether it was during the day or night, we heard from our front-line clinicians concerns about misinformation, lack of understanding about their staffing plans," Brenda Simpson, DNP, RN, division senior vice president and chief nursing officer, facilities, told Becker's.

The listening sessions are still occurring, but they have evolved into nurse-led staffing summits to educate and involve front-line clinicians. They are a collaborative effort between human resources, nursing and finance. 

Dr. Simpson said clinicians receive education about the parameters of the staffing budget, such as how the organization budgets full-time equivalents for a variable nursing unit. They also receive education about a tool they can use to plan different staffing scenarios.

"Finance does the education, we have a consistent slide deck, and then nursing does the education on the tool," she said. 

She said leaders facilitate the tool, but clinicians "can say, 'I'd rather have a nurse on nights or a [certified nursing assistant] here.' And, of course, it's a spreadsheet on a big screen so that they can see what their actions create and then make decisions accordingly."

There are parameters, such as ensuring a certain number of clinicians are on the job at all times, particularly in inpatient units. But the workers talk through a staffing plan and sign it to show they were part of the planning, and a human resources representative at the summit puts the staffing plan in front of workers indicating their work on it has been implemented. 

Between CommonSpirit's 20 hospitals in Colorado, Kansas and Utah, summits occur each week.

"We're doing them intermittently [among facilities]," Dr. Simpson said. "A unit may want to change the skill mix within the staffing plan, or if there's a sustained volume change in two or three months to a greater or lesser volume than what we budgeted and planned for, or if there's a new service. 

"The manager and the leader can say, 'We want to review again.' Now we may do those reviews by Zoom with the distance, but those have been successful by Zoom, especially if they've already been through the education [component]."

Overall, she estimated there are 89 staffing summits each week for 20 facilities. And while it's difficult to pinpoint the effects the summits have had on turnover and retention, surveys at the end of summits indicate positive feedback, Dr. Simpson said.

"I don't foresee us doing anything different," she said. "We always revise, of course, our structures and processes. But it has been very successful. Healthcare is very dynamic. Nursing units are very dynamic in terms of population served, in terms of census, in terms of workload. So we really envision this to be our process where we involve our front-line staff. We absolutely will not make a change to our staffing plan unless we have front-line direct care clinicians as part of the process."

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