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Hospitals Develop Strategies That Retain Experienced Nurses

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, July 30, 2009

Nurses helped design a new $92 million patient tower that opened last year at Monongalia General Hospital in Morgantown, WV.

At Carondelet Health Network in Tucson, AZ, nurses have access to on-site bachelor's of science in nursing and master's of science in nursing education, through collaboration with a local university.

And at Scripps Health in San Diego, CA, experienced and mature nurses are encouraged to stay on the job through a multitude of flexible work arrangements and phased retirement options.

These are three success stories highlighted in a recent report, "Wisdom at Work: Retaining Experienced Nurses" by the Lewin Group and commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

While seven case studies describe projects that work, the report also details the outcomes of 13 selected research projects designed to test positive and negative outcomes of strategies to retain experienced nurses who otherwise might quit for less demanding jobs.

Healthcare executives are well aware of the problem. According to a January report by the Lewin Group, the average replacement cost for a full-time equivalent RN is about $36,567. About two-thirds comes from the added termination expenses, such as paying the departing nurse for unused vacation time, as well as finding temporary replacement and conducting new RN training and orientation.

By next year, more than half of the nation's registered nurses will be over age 50 and many will be considering retirement.

Surveys reveal that 116,000 registered nurse positions are now unfilled in U.S hospitals; another 100,000 job vacancies exist in nursing homes. Although the recession has caused some nurses to delay retirement, the aging demographic means an increasing demand for nurses looms, and may outpace the supply of nursing school graduates.

"We know that there is no quick fix to the crisis in healthcare," said Susan B. Hassmiller, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's senior advisor for nursing. "But initiatives explored in our Wisdom at Work are pieces of a larger puzzle that will help healthcare organizations keep experienced nurses from walking out the door–and taking their expertise with them–just when we need them most."

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