What Nurses Really Need: Staffing Support

By Madison Pittman

Nurses are hurting right now.

The pandemic took a physical and emotional toll on the world’s nurses, and unless hospitals and healthcare systems take decisive action, nurse resignations are likely to rise in the near future.

According to the International Council of Nurses (ICN), nurse dissatisfaction and burnout are up worldwide. More than one-third of nurses who responded to Medscape’s 2020 Nurse Career Satisfaction survey said that COVID-19 has decreased their career satisfaction, and the percentage of nurses who describe themselves as “very burned out” more than quadrupled, from 4% pre-pandemic to 18% six months into the crisis. At the height of the pandemic, more than half of the nurses in New York and Illinois experienced high burnout, according to a recent BMJ Quality & Safety article.

Burnout Can Trigger Nurse Resignations

Burnout – often fueled by a mismatch between workload and staffing — is a widely recognized cause of nurse resignations. When nurses cannot provide quality patient care (and adequate self-care) because there are not enough hands on deck, frustration mounts. And when nurses realize that the problem is systemic – that management cannot or will not invest in additional support – they leave.

Some hospitals and healthcare systems have already experienced significant losses of experienced nurses. According to reporting by Deseret News, Intermountain Medical Center, the largest hospital in Utah, lost at least 38 ICU nurses from “just two” of its five ICUs between February 2020 and February 2021. The University of Utah Hospital lost 68 ICU nurses over the same period.

Such losses are expensive. The average cost of turnover for a bedside RN is $44,400; the more experienced and specialized the nurse’s skillset, the more costly it will be to replace them. And replacing experienced RNs with lesser-experienced, less expensive nurses can be costly as well, as experienced nurses can catch and respond to subtle shifts in patient status that inexperienced RNs may miss, preventing patient harm and reducing the overall cost of care.

Data from the ICN suggests that “the COVID-19 Effect … could trigger an exodus from the [nursing] profession.” Data from Utah supports that concern: the state’s nurse turnover rate in the second quarter of 2020 was 39% higher than the same quarter in 2019.

Decrease Nurse Turnover With Supportive Staffing

Researchers who study burnout and nurse retention have consistently found that improved managerial support and better nurse-patient ratios can decrease burnout and staff turnover. Studies have also found that innovative, just-in-time staffing support, such as providing additional staff during times of high need, can improve nurse morale and retention.

The stress that nurses experienced during the pandemic will not be erased by thank you notes, massages or mental health counseling. Those measures may be helpful, but unless they are accompanied by meaningful changes to the work environment, nurses who were pushed to the edge of their endurance may consider quitting.

Of course, hospital budgets also suffered during the pandemic. Adding extra staff may not be an option right now. However, identifying clinical inefficiencies may allow you to streamline workflows to decrease demand on existing staff. Accurate tracking of clinical needs may also reveal opportunities for just-in-time support.

How Technology Can Help

Clean Hands-Safe Hands technology automatically logs each time a staff member enters or leaves a room, so you can pick up unusual upticks in activity, which may indicate an urgent need for support. Real-time Intervention BlueprintsTM help administrators and charge nurses pinpoint the location of increased demand, so they can send additional staff to help, as needed. That kind of support is invaluable to stressed out, overwhelmed nurses who are sometimes so immersed in patient care that they don’t have time to ask for help.

The 2018 Critical Care Nurse Work Environments study found that 52% of nurses who planned to leave their jobs within the next 12 months said better staffing would “very likely” make them reconsider leaving. Technology that tracks workflow moment-to-moment allows you to make informed staffing decisions, so you can give nurses the support they need to provide excellent patient care.

That support may be the difference between resignation and retention.

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