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HealthLeaders CNO Exchange: 3 Areas Where Chief Nurses Must Embrace a New Reality in Nursing

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   December 01, 2021

Nursing must look ahead because the workplace of yesterday will never return, thanks to the pandemic, CNOs say.

From containing costs to staff well-being to a changing workplace, acute-care nursing is entering a new reality, and chief nursing officers (CNOs) must adapt and embrace new ways of making it work, according to the consensus of chief nursing officers at the HealthLeaders CNO Exchange.

These three areas garnered much of the discussion during the two-day Exchange, which wrapped up today in Austin, Texas:

Traveling Nurses

Where hospitals once operated with a small percentage of their staff as temporary agency nurses, the pandemic and the staffing shortages it has created, has “seismically changed” that, one CNO said.

Travelers are no longer an anomaly, but a requirement for CNOS trying to safely staff their hospitals, and the CNOs must now think in terms of 13-week contracts when orientating, teaching safety protocols, and moving travelers in and out of the right units, the CNO said.

One CNO suggested allowing a hospital’s nurses to travel, but to also keep them employed by the hospital so they return to their home base. That strategy would enable CNOs to retain staff that understand their work and culture, she said.

The financial cost of travelers, some of whom may make $250 per hour, is a concern, because, although the CNOs generally don’t blame nurses for wanting to boost their salary, such a fee structure is unsustainable to a hospital, they said.

A salary cap is placed on travelers, as suggested by some state-level politicians, would be ineffective unless it’s a federal cap, one CNO explained. Most travelers are from out of state, so if individual states adopted a cap, travelers in those states would simply depart for states with no cap, leaving hospitals in the capped states with drastic staffing shortages.

Mental health and well-being

Bringing mental health support to nurses, rather than requiring them to make the effort, is crucial to helping them fortify and maintain their well-being, many of the CNOs said.

One CNO recounted how the single most-effective step her hospital took during the worst surges of the pandemic was bringing mental health counselors onto the units to guide nurses through the unprecedented surge of deaths they were experiencing.

“They were more able to cope,” the CNO said, adding, “They were not accessing services when they had to go them, so we brought it to them.”

Relaxation rooms, snack carts, and other nurse appreciation perks are only part of what nurses need for their well-being, a CNO said.

“The pandemic has identified all the areas you need to fix,” and the solution to nurses’ well-being is to set about fixing those problems, she said.

Figuring out flexible schedules, making sure nurses truly do get their breaks, and streamlining some work processes will also bring nurses the relief they’re seeking, the CNO said.

The changing workplace

Technology is quickly changing the way care is delivered, and the new generation of nurses is more comfortable with that, because they’ve grown up in a more tech-advanced world than previous generations.

“We need to be willing to listen to the new generation of nurses and translating their new ideas to actions,” one CNO said. “We haven’t lived in society they have, and we can’t see the opportunities they see in order to work smarter.”

Patients of the future also are well-versed in technology and will have different expectations than older patients when it comes to their healthcare experience, CNOs said.

That means nurses must possess all the skills—including technological—to take care of those patients of the future.

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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