Colorado nurse executives unite to help each other through COVID-19 and other challenges while coalescing the state's voice of nursing.
What began as a regular pre-COVID informal working happy hour of three or four chief nursing officers (CNO) who knew each other from the Denver marketplace evolved into an influential circle of nurse executives from competing health systems focused on helping each other through the COVID-19 pandemic and other professional challenges while enhancing the voice of nursing in Colorado.
Kathy Boyle, CNO of Denver Health, a 555-bed Level 1 trauma hospital, spearheaded the group comprised of CNOs from the state's largest health systems so she and her high-level counterparts could trade professional assistance, information, and support.
Although Boyle and her peers are members of the Colorado Organization of Nurse Leaders, they craved a stronger, more focused connection.
"We wanted a group that was specific to our level of leadership," she says.
And so, the Chief Nurse Executive Collaborative was founded.
Creating Stronger Bonds
The initial informal group evolved and became more formalized in fits and starts. After COVID-19 hit and did away with gathering at local restaurants for their working happy hours, Boyle and the others tried to keep the connection going with Friday afternoon conference calls. That effort didn't work, she says.
"And then in October , I just said, 'I'm going to get a list of the key CNOs in all of our major [health] systems … and try to get us together as a group," Boyle says.
Boyle put her plan in motion and invited key chief nurse executives and CNOs from Colorado's major health systems—Banner Health, Centura Health, Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, HealthONE, UCHealth, Boulder Community Health, and Childrens Hospital Colorado (CHC)—to join their group and participate in regular virtual meetings through the WebEx platform.
All eight invited nurse executives accepted the request and initially met every day. Virtual gatherings eventually tapered off to three times per week before finally settling on a weekly meeting each Wednesday, which they continue to do today.
The eight-member group discusses everything that is happening in their professional world, which, initially, was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the beginning, they sought and shared information on COVID volumes, staffing strategies, and how to support their staffs and encourage resiliency as their hospitals filled with critically ill COVID patients.
They also conferred about working with their chief medical officers (CMO); plans for continuing elective surgeries when they were allowed again; workforce equipment; patient care in general; and any innovative strategies they could share.
They didn’t discuss every topic at every meeting, and some meetings were shorter than others.
Currently, the meetings, which are still virtual, begin with a 30-minute presentation from the incident commander with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reporting on COVID response. The nurse executives follow the report with discussions on vaccine progress, how vaccine clinics are functioning, and other relevant subjects.
COVID, Healthcare Laws, and Beyond
While COVID remains at the forefront of their discussions for now, the group also talks about other matters affecting their work, such as health-related issues that are before the state legislature.
Last year, for example, the Colorado General Assembly considered measures related to the regulation of healthcare facilities, behavioral health, prescription drug costs, and substance use.
Also in the 2020 session, the legislature considered the future of the Colorado Nurse Practice Act and State Board of Nursing. All regulatory agencies in Colorado must be re-evaluated every 10 years to determine they are effective enough to continue to exist, and the State Board of Nursing was up for review in 2020. The board and Colorado Nurse Practice Act were renewed.
Building Bridges in Healthcare
The nurse executives have prioritized building alliances with other healthcare organizations to bring consistency and cohesion to Colorado's nurses, particularly because this small group is accountable for most of the state's nurses, Boyle says.
Most of the collaborative's individual members have a strong connection with the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence, so they ask its president and CEO Ingrid Johnson [DNP, MPP, RN], to occasionally join their meetings, Boyle says.
"We're also building bridges with the Colorado Nurses Association, the state health department," she says, "and anybody else we can think of that we should have a strong connection with as being the voice of nursing."
Looking out for each other
Along with sharing professional ideas and strategies, members of the Chief Nurse Executive Collaborative look out for each other, too. When the nurse executives were working so long and hard during COVID surges—Boyle went eight or nine months without a single day off—the members encouraged each other to step back and take a break, she says.
"One of the things we talked about is that we wanted to support one another in taking time for ourselves," she says. "It's important to recharge, so when somebody in the group says, 'I'm going to take vacation next week,' we're all celebrating that they're doing that for themself."
The camaraderie and alliance that have developed through the collaborative have been inspiring, Boyle says.
"One of the things that we have said is how this has been a great support to us, because we came together in the spirit of being aligned," she says, "and we really wanted to be supportive of one another with COVID because we have very much in common."
"That WebEx face-to-face connection on a weekly basis is very powerful," she adds. "It's amazing, the connections that have been created, and we're really looking forward to someday being together in person."
Having her colleagues as a sounding board and connecting is "kind of a joy," Boyle says. "It is hard to even describe the relief that it is to share with people that are facing common challenges [and] issues."
"We've been meeting for about five months with this regularity," she says, "and it is a huge support to me as the chief nurse."
“It is hard to even describe the relief that it is to share with people that are facing common challenges [and] issues.”
Kathy Boyle, CNO of Denver Health
Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.
Nurse executives from Colorado's major health systems have formed the Chief Nurse Executive Collaborative to support each other professionally.
Weekly virtual meetings begin with a 30-minute presentation from the incident commander with the state public health department reporting on COVID response.
The collaborative is building alliances with other healthcare organizations to bring consistency and cohesion to Colorado's nurses.