Amid a growing nursing shortage, health systems are ramping up their incentives to attract and retain qualified staff—from five-figure signing bonuses to a brand-new Ford Mustang convertible, Max Blau writes for STAT News.
One million nurses needed
According to the American Nursing Association (ANA), the United States by 2022 could need more than a million new nurses to meet demand as the population of older Americans grows and existing nurses retire. Even so, nursing schools have had to turn away tens of thousands of applicants due to a shortage of teachers.
"The incentives speak to the severity of the shortage," said Alexi Nazem, co-founder and CEO of Nomad Health, a tech company attempting to combat the nationwide shortage of medical professionals. "But hospitals aren't just trying to solve the problem of a shortage, but also of turnover. It's hard to hire. It's also hard to retain people."
Hospitals get creative to combat the nurse shortage
To combat the shortage, many hospitals have been getting creative with their hiring incentives for nurses. For instance, Pikeville Medical Center in Kentucky—seeking to hire more nurses after expanding in 2016 to a 320-bed hospital—amped up their signing bonuses for nurses to $25,000 from their traditional bonuses of $5,000 to $10,000. They also gave their nurses a chance to win a 2017 Ford Mustang convertible.
And while the hospital added a caveat to that bonus—nurses had to agree to receive the bonus over a five-year work contract—Kevin McIver, a spokesperson for the hospital, said the strategy has made a difference. "[It] helped us recruit over 300 qualified nurses at a time when other hospitals were experiencing dire shortages due to the national nurse shortage," he said.
Other hospitals and health systems are helping nurses offset the cost of their education, Blau writes. For instance, Medical City Healthcare in Texas several years ago launched the "Texas 2-Step" program, which enabled its employees and volunteers to earn an associate degree in nursing at no cost—provided participants agreed to work for the health system as an RN for two years.
According to Jenifer Tertel, the system's VP of human resources, the program has trained more than 300 nurses, and 80 percent of them have remained with the organization. "This is the biggest part of our workforce," she said. "We want to give (employees) every opportunity to grow and develop as a nurse. In providing for our own nurses, we believe that drives better care for our patients."
Separately, WVU Medicine offered no-cost lodging when aiming to attract 200 nurses to its Heart and Vascular Institute in West Virginia. For nurse applicants who did not want to relocate permanently for the job, the hospital provides accommodations at a 44-bed dorm near the health care facility. So far, according to Doug Mitchell, CNO of WVU Medicine, several hundred nurses have stayed at the dorm before heading back to their home states.
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Incentive programs aren't enough, experts say
Some experts, however, say these incentives fail to address the root causes of the nursing shortage. Seun Ross, the director of nursing practice and work environment for ANA, said such incentives serve only as stopgap measures for hospitals in rural areas without other options. Meanwhile, in urban areas, Ross said hospitals "pilfer" nurses from their competitors, leading to "the same nurses shuffling back and forth" rather than increasing the overall number of nurses.
Ross urged stakeholders to ensure nursing schools have more resources so they can train more nursing students. Hospitals also should improve the nursing experience, Ross said, by fostering an inclusive workspace and investing in cutting-edge technology. "If you invest in nurses with signing bonuses, you might keep them a few years, but they're going to leave if the work environment sucks," Ross explained. "If you invest in nurses already there, they're going to bring their friends."
Separately, Mitchell said hospitals can address the nursing shortage only by investing both in hiring incentives and in the current nursing workforce. "The incentives let someone give you a try," he said. "But you keep nurses around, not through incentives, but by treating them well and staying true to your mission" (Blau, STAT News, 9/13).
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