The COVID-19 pandemic continues to push everyone, especially frontline health care workers, well beyond the brink. Nurses have been exposed to the most trying and difficult predicaments related to the coronavirus, and the stress has taken its toll.
During the most recent surge of cases, rural hospitals across the country have resorted to extraordinary lengths to ensure that adequate staffing is available for the patient spikes. This includes engaging with staffing companies to bring in out-of-state workers and offering sizable bonuses for nurses.
Several factors have contributed to the burnout faced by so many nurses over the past 18 months, including the sudden onset and continued surges of the outbreak, the lack of critical personal protective equipment (PPE), the long hours and mounting deaths, along with nationwide staffing shortages that predated the pandemic.
While nurses have continued to face the worst of the virus, caring for patients through surge after surge, many have left the field due to burnout, trauma, or in some cases, death. According to a recent survey conducted by NSI Nursing Solutions, Inc., the turnover rate for the nursing profession was 18.7 percent in 2020, representing a 2.8 percent year-over-year increase.
Though more than half of the country is vaccinated, the health care situation isn’t improving quickly enough, and executives must act for the sake of their employees. As more work gets piled on nurses who are already stretched thin, it’s important to focus on empowering our nurses in new and innovative ways. Leaders must look at the litany of responsibilities shouldered by nurses and make efforts to curb the administrative tasks so that there can be a return to the clinical duties at hand.
Hospital leadership needs to sort through the multiple extra responsibilities placed on staff and ask themselves what can be reduced for the short term. This could be a reduction in committee meeting work or simplifying education requirements to conserve the physical, intellectual and emotional energy of nurses.
We need nurses back at the bedside because it’s the essence of the role: nurses thrive from being a part of a patient’s journey by being “present,” updating family members, and engaging the health care team to work seamlessly to get them back to their state of wellness. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, less than one-third of a nurse’s time was spent with patients.
Nurses shouldn’t be bogged down by tedious paperwork or endless charting; they should have every opportunity to care for their patients. With this in mind, the question now centers on how we can empower our nurses and ease their collective burden. In an increasingly digital world, I would argue that embracing technology must be a major consideration for our nurse colleagues. Here are three ways health care leadership can get nurses back at the bedside.
1. Tech that supports
Technological solutions can serve as the tailwinds that inspire the work nurses do. Having high-tech innovations available for those on the frontline can act as a “silent helper” for nurses and provide a meaningful impact for the patients they care for.
For example, automating processes for frontline staff when it comes to patient transfer. With the right technology and programs in place, a nurse can begin the transfer process for a patient in as little as 22 clicks of a mouse, totaling around 90 seconds. This is a vast improvement compared to the manual patient transfer processes, where nurses could be on the phone for hours trying to find bed availability — sometimes making upward of 60 calls per patient — while the patient must remain on standby, which could mean life or death in emergency situations.
2. Leaders must lead
Though the end goal of implementing these processes is to bring nurses back to the bedside, we also can’t let them return without knowing they have full support from leadership and the organization. It’s imperative for health care executives to provide the resources to make the job easier, along with the accompanying rhetoric to ease concerns.
Executives must make their staff feel like they’re being valued. Interfacing with those on the frontline, such as through conducting rounds, is a start. Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to show their faces and get into the trenches with their employees; put on scrubs, get out on the floor, and engage with the community.
3. Show me my worth
But beyond internal goodwill measures, other issues must be addressed as well, such as increasing pay for nurses. Confronting constant mortality and unprecedented clinical hurdles must be given the appropriate financial investment. If increasing pay is what it takes to get nurses back at the bedside where they need to be, then that investment must be made. Additionally, salary increases can provide a competitive advantage for hospitals seeking to recruit already scarce nursing talent and underscore the importance of keeping seasoned, long-time nurses within the organization.
When leaders look at ensuring their nurses have adequate medical supplies on hand, that should apply to standard resources but also include PPE and technology. To overcome the unique and lingering obstacles we face today, we must be creative with our solutions. These roles, while challenging, should properly compensate those who are there to treat others during times of need. We should continue to reach out to high schools and colleges in order to build an educational pipeline that will supply hospitals with future generations of inspired nurses.
Working alongside us
As nurses walk alongside the patient through their care journey, we need technology to walk alongside nurses. These are staffers who are problem-solvers by nature and dogged in their collective work ethic. They deserve resources that will match their efforts and make tasks easier to manage. This is not to say that technology is the silver bullet solution for all the obstacles ahead of nurses; these processes and programs may not be able to adjust to all the nuances of a nurse working a 12- hour shift and beyond, but they can serve as a boost to a compassionate nurse working on your patient’s behalf.
While we continue to endure a seemingly never-ending public health crisis, health care leaders must consider all options to take care of our health care heroes.
Juli Heitman is a nurse and quality improvement specialist.
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