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Transparent Staffing

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Massachusetts residents wondering how many nurses will be taking care of them if they visit their community hospital have a new way to find out. Facilities statewide are posting staffing information on the Web as part of a voluntary program aimed at improving hospital quality and safety.

The information is published online as part of Patients First, a program of the Massachusetts Hospital Association and the Massachusetts Organization of Nurse Executives. The posted data includes the number of staffers per shift and the types of staffers on duty from 80 hospitals across the state.

While the program—the nation’s first of its kind, according to the MHA—provides information to consumers, there are multiple benefits to participating hospitals as well, says MHA Senior Vice President Karen Nelson.

“We know that providers want to know how care is provided and what it’s like at different hospitals,” Nelson says. “One of the more immediate benefits among care providers and among nurses was the ability to compare and contrast and learn from each other. You get to see interesting approaches to staffing.”

Beginning in January 2006, the hospitals provided anticipated staffing levels and then tracked care hours they actually provided throughout the year. In February 2007, the MHA announced that 85 percent of Massachusetts hospital units provided nursing care at or above planned levels for 2006. Currently, the site provides anticipated staffing plans for 2007.

“Any unit that you look at will tell you how many nurses and nursing assistants are on that unit or worked on that unit over the course of the year on every shift of every day,” says Nelson, adding that at the end of this year Patients First will be publishing emergency department staffing.

Karen Moore, vice president of hospital operations at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, MA, says that after her hospital examined the data it posted on the Patients First Web site, www.patientsfirstma.org, facility leaders decided they needed more nursing assistants and increased hiring efforts. The information also provides for accelerated learning, improvements and innovations among hospitals by exploring best practices, Moore added.

“The availability of staffing information is, first and foremost, creating more dialogue around staffing within the organization,” Moore says. “It makes visible the need to maintain flexibility with staffing so critical judgments can be made to direct resources to where they are needed most.”

—Ben Cole