Saturday, June 10, 2000

Recruiting, retaining nurses a long-term struggle

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In addition to recruiting nurses from overseas, Tristate hospitals, nursing schools and other organizations have been working on a blizzard of projects to boost the nursing supply.

        Efforts include a few pay raises, a hospital group claiming sharp reductions in the use of temporary nurses, a summer nursing camp for high school students, and a Bluegrass version of Northern Exposure.

        While many hospitals spend millions per year hiring temporary nurses, Mercy Health Partners has eliminated the practice at two of its six hospitals and two of its four long-term care facilities, said Kathleen Lauwers, chief nursing officer.

        “We feel our own employ ees will be more true to our mission,” Ms. Lauwers said.

        Mercy's “Great Unit” program encourages staff from department to department to find ways to fill shifts with regular staff instead of temps. When temporary nurses are eliminated, part of the savings goes back to staff nurses as bonuses, the rest gets re-invested in the department.

        So far, Mercy has eliminated all temporary nursing at its Hamilton and Fairfield hospitals and its West Park and Schroder nursing homes, Ms. Lauwers said.

        At TriHealth, registered nurses got a $1 an hour pay raise in May, said Jon Mays, staffing manager.

        Recruiters who once focused primarily on local col leges and job fairs are reaching deeper into Kentucky, Indiana and northern Ohio. There also has been some interest in international recruiting, but the plans are not as advanced as Maple Knoll's project, Mr. Mays said.

        Meanwhile, area high schools are beginning to feel a marketing blitz from hospitals and nursing schools.

        Counselors are getting more newsletters and requests to make presentations to students. Students are getting more chances at scholarships, forgivable loans and other incentives.

        Last month, St. Elizabeth Medical Center launched a Bluegrass version of Northern Exposure when it gave six high school graduates scholarships valued at up to $4,000 per year. Much like the fictional doctor who agreed to work in Alaska, the students agree to work as nurses at St. Elizabeth for two years after graduation.

        Starting June 19, the Mercy system will host its first Future Nurses Camp, where 14 high school students will spend four half-days touring facilities and getting a taste of work in the health-care world.

        Still, exciting students about nursing remains a challenge.

        For the Class of 2000, the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati asked 10 high schools to pick a student interested in nursing to receive a full scholarship to the Christ Hospital School of Nursing.

        Three schools, including one all-female high school, could not find a single interested student, said Melanie Garner, manager of the the Christ Hospital nursing school.

        At the Health Alliance, several high-tech recruiting efforts are starting to help, said Geri Harrison, manager of RN recruitment.

        The hospital group now hires about five nurses a month through Internet advertising and e-mailed applications. The alliance also runs a 24-hour automated job application line that allows nurses who work odd shifts to record answers to several standard background questions at their convenience.

        Meanwhile, nursing schools have started responding to criticisms that too many graduates feel shocked when they move from student training into the real world.

        At Xavier University, the nursing school has launched an internship program to give students real hospital experience between their third and fourth years of training. In July, Xavier also plans to launch a mentor program aimed at linking new graduates to Xavier-trained nurses working in the community.

        Retaining nurses has emerged as just as high a priority as recruiting new ones. A task force of hospitals, nursing schools and nurses will focus on nurse retention at a summit planned for late summer or early fall, said Lynn Olman, president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council.

        “We need to do everything we can to recruit new nurses, but we also need to find out what's wrong with the job that is making people leave,” Mrs. Olman said.

        Some efforts have already started. At Mercy Health Partners, for example, the system has invited 100 nurse managers to a “Journey to Empowerment” program to develop their skills and improve teamwork with medical staff.

        This fall, another 80 nurses will join Mercy's “Risen Program,” which focuses on the spiritual aspects of nursing care.


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