Even before COVID-19, health systems struggled to fulfill staff needs. Now, the Minnesota nurse strike signals that the situation has grown dire. Meanwhile, the number of healthcare workers is down 37,000 compared to February 2020, while demand continues to increase.
Healthcare organizations need to take immediate action to recruit and retain nurses and continue to provide high standards of care.
Nurses Don’t Just Want More Pay
Although the striking nurses demand an increase in compensation, staffing decisions are the primary reason for the strike, according to The Washington Post. And since poor staffing leads to worker burnout, healthcare leaders must create a schedule that works for everyone. Ideally, nurses should be involved in schedule decisions. Chris Rubesch, the Vice President of the Minnesota Nurses Association and a nurse at Essentia Health in Duluth, weighed in on the current staffing dilemma.
I can't give my patients the care they deserve. Call lights go unanswered. Patients should only be waiting for a few seconds or minutes if they've soiled themselves, their oxygen came unplugged, or they need to go to the bathroom, but that can take 10 minutes or more. Those are things that can't wait.
To combat poor care and worker fatigue, healthcare administrators must strive to maintain higher staffing levels so nurses can spend adequate time with patients when appropriate.
Nurse Journal recommended specific benefits to retain nurses that are considering resigning. For example, education allowance, bonuses, and employee subsidized healthcare are measures that can make a difference for loyal employees and recruits. In addition, SNF facilities in Pennsylvania and Georgia gave nurses flexible scheduling options to sweeten the deal.
Additionally, mentorship programs can improve the experience of newly signed-on nurses. Nurse mentorship leverages more experienced nurses to guide fellow RNs to grow into their roles in healthcare. These programs benefit health organizations in multiple ways. First, it allows older, more experienced nurses a less physically demanding alternative to clinical care while still using their skills. The trainee benefits from having a guide in an otherwise overwhelming environment.
According to Nurse Journal, mentorship programs give healthcare systems concrete advantages, including lower burnout rates and improved career growth for new nurses. Dr. Stephanie Sanderson, who has 35 years of experience in acute and critical care nursing, called for more robust coaching in medicine to avoid these errors in her discussion on the Medplace podcast.
I know that I'm going to make more mistakes, and I know that my nurses are going to make mistakes. And when they do make a mistake, what I try to do is to coach them because everybody needs a coach. It doesn't matter how long you've been doing something or how good you are. We need to ask, 'How can we do this better, or how did this happen? Tell me how this happened because maybe I can intervene.'
Resources for Nurses
Nurse staffing should not be a one size fits all model. Healthcare administrators must gauge their staff's pain points and priorities to effectively provide resources to their team. For example, a Pennsylvania SNF facility used its Medicaid reimbursement to allocate more funds to nurses, ensuring 70% of the increase went to bedside care. Other organizations support their nurses in different ways, like peer-led emotional support. Ultimately, nurses' needs vary, and so should benefits.
For more information about the state of nursing, click here to watch our webinar, The State of Nursing, or listen to our podcast about the RaDonda Vaught case.