We are more than a year and a half into the pandemic, and nurse fatigue remains unchecked. Nursing shortages and burnout predate the COVID-19 pandemic. However, right now, health systems across the United States are witnessing unprecedented levels of compassion fatigue and high turnover rates.
Nursing Shortage and Burnout Have Become Major Issues
In fact, Vivian, a healthcare worker marketplace, conducted a survey amongst 1,273 nurses across all 50 states. It found that 43% of respondents are considering leaving the healthcare profession in 2021 and an opposing 56% are staying in the healthcare field. When asked the same question in 2020, 80% of respondents noted that they are likely to continue working in healthcare post-COVID-19.
According to a recent survey by Aya Healthcare, nurses increasingly report that they want to leave bedside nursing or the profession entirely for office jobs. The report found that younger nurses who plan to leave the profession said they want to change to a safer career path, while older nurses stated they intend to opt for early retirement.
Nurse shortage and fatigue have become such critical issues that The American Nurses Association sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services this month asking the agency to declare the ongoing nursing shortage a national crisis. In addition, The American Hospital Association has asked Congress to address the issue of burnout by allowing more nurses to join the profession by expanding nursing schools and relaxing restrictions on foreign-born nurses.
Even more, experts are worried what the new federal vaccination mandate means for the current nurse shortage. The American Hospital Association CEO, Rick Pollack, stated that as a "practical matter, this policy may result in exacerbating the severe workforce shortage problems that currently exist." So, what are health systems and hospitals doing to help combat the nurse shortage and burnout?
What Hospitals and Health Systems Are Doing to Fight Nurse Shortage and Burnout
Hospitals and health systems are ramping up their hiring efforts to employ enough staff to care for patients as fatigue runs high. This means offering higher wages, increasing signing bonuses, and boosting benefits packages. At UAMS Medical Center at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science in Little Rock, administrators have been recruiting new nurses with signing bonuses of up to $25,000.
Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis hopes that a unique job offer will be attractive enough to bring at least 20 new nurses to their facility. They have posted a 13-week assignment, which is just like having a travel nurse assignment, but the nurses would be part of their team. While it's not a benefitted position, it allows them to offer higher wages, which can be as high as $90 an hour.
However, there isn't going to be a simple fix to the nurse shortage and burnout, and it's not just going to take higher wages and better benefits to resolve the issue. Hospitals and health systems will have to be creative and intentional with what they offer and provide to their nurses and staff in general. The support that Stericycle client, CHRISTUS Health, provided to its employees during the pandemic is an excellent example.
How CHRISTUS Health Supported Its Employees During COVID-19
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CHRISTUS leaders were committed to providing their Associates with the support they needed to feel safe and protected while in the workplace. They also wanted to build community through a system-wide focus on a culture of belonging, resiliency, and well-being. CHRISTUS Health needed a confidential, supportive method to address Associate resiliency but didn't have a structured behavioral health service line to respond appropriately to Associate needs.
CHRISTUS wanted a way to say thank you, provide emotional support, and give Associates access to internal resources —for both current and future needs. At the same time, CHRISTUS leaders noticed a lot of staff were not using their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits, which included counseling as a free service to all Associates.
"Using Stericycle Health & Wellness Campaigns for Associate, not patient, outreach was new — for us and for Stericycle. Our trusted relationship provided the foundation to dream and learn together in kinship and partnership. The CHRISTUS Health Associate Wellbeing Check-in Program wouldn't be possible without Stericycle, who was able to think creatively and take a risk with us."
Stericycle Communication Solutions previously performed clinical outbound calling for CHRISTUS Health patient visitation follow-ups, so we were a natural partner for this new challenge. Together, Stericycle and CHRISTUS designed a brief series of questions and an approved emotional guidance script with a menu of responses, appropriate actions, and follow-ups for Stericycle's agents to use as a reference when performing outbound calls to CHRISTUS Associates. The program's goals were to provide comfort, and when needed, a referral to the EAP and/or warm transfers to CHRISTUS chaplains.
The Associate Outreach Program Provided a Support System to Combat Nurse Burnout
The initial pilot program reached out to Associates in Southwest Louisiana and San Antonio, Texas, which were areas where natural disasters had recently occurred and stress levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic were high. Stericycle made more than 2,000 Associate calls, spoke with 400 people, and received 100 inbound calls.
Although the campaign did not yield a large number of Associates wanting to speak with a chaplain or use the EAP, it yielded CHRISTUS Health something they deemed extremely valuable – a positive reception from its Associates who knew that CHRISTUS leadership cared enough to reach out to them individually.
"This has been a rough time, and it's great that the company I work for is concerned about my well-being. I don't need a referral at this time but will keep this information handy." — Medical Center Associate, CHRISTUS Health
With such positive early reviews, the expectation is that the program will remain a powerful resource to improve Associate engagement, foster resiliency, demonstrate compassion from leadership, and help reduce turnover.
This initiative by CHRISTUS Health is the type of campaign that health systems should create to help lessen the stress and burnout that nurses and staff feel. Now more than ever, nurses and staff are looking for their employers to show compassion, empathy, and support.
To hear more about this campaign with CHRISTUS Health and a discussion on the current nurse shortage and compassion fatigue issue, watch our on-demand webinar with George Avila, Vice President of Mission Integration at CHRISTUS Health.