To address the shortage of nurses at OU Health and drive solutions for the future of healthcare, OU Health is launching several initiatives within its Oklahoma City facilities to strengthen the nursing workforce.
Healthcare facilities around the nation are experiencing a critical shortage of nurses, and OU Health is no exception. According to the federal Bureau of Health Workforce, Oklahoma has 44,200 nurses, which translates to 11.1 nurses per 1,000 people. Across OU Health hospitals, there is a 19% nursing vacancy rate and a 47% turnover rate. OU Health Interim Chief Nursing Executive Julie Hoff, Ph.D., MPH, RN, is leading the effort to transform the nursing enterprise in ways that address the shortage, improve patient care, and create a better work-life balance for nurses.
“Nurses play a critical role in the care of each patient, and healthcare systems operate best when we have a full staff of highly educated, compassionate nurses working in a collaborative setting,” Hoff said. “As we transform our nursing workforce in the new OU Health integrated academic healthcare system, we are rolling out incentives and creating a roadmap for growth. Being a nurse today can be difficult, and we will continue to face challenges as we respond to an increased demand for healthcare services as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, we are creating an atmosphere at OU Health where nurses feel valued and ready to come to work each day to care for their patients.”
To launch the initiatives, OU Health is providing retention bonuses to its current nursing workforce. Nurses across the enterprise have worked diligently in their hospitals and units, with the additional challenges of COVID-19, and they deserve a boost, Hoff said.
Another innovation, called OU Health Travel at Home, provides current nurses the option of being paid like a traveling nurse – receiving a higher hourly rate in lieu of receiving a benefits package, unless required by law. In some cases, depending on the 401(k) plan, retirement benefits may be paid. The program is open to new hires and to all existing OU Health nurses who want to change how they are compensated. There are a limited number of opportunities for this program.
The new OU Health Weekend Program is designed to increase weekend nursing staff at OU Health University of Oklahoma Medical Center, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health, and OU Health Edmond Medical Center. Nurses who commit to working four 12-hour weekend shifts in each two-week pay period (48 hours) will be paid for 72 hours. In addition to new hires, this program is open to existing OU Health nurses and OU College of Nursing Faculty. Nurses can also choose to split a weekend shift with a colleague. Slots are limited for each hospital.
Hoff, who also serves as Dean of the Fran and Earl Ziegler College of Nursing at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, said the academic component of OU Health will play a major role in nursing recruitment and retention. Through the OU Health and OU College of Nursing Degree Accelerator Program, OU Health nurses wanting to continue their education will have two options. They can receive tuition reimbursement of $5,250 per year for any accredited nursing program, or they can apply for scholarships in three different degree programs: RN-to-BSN; Master’s in Nursing Administration (MSN); and post-master’s Doctorate in Nursing Practice focused on Nursing Administration (DNP).
The OU College of Nursing graduates a significant number of students each year – 287 for spring 2021 – but intends to grow the number that are educated at higher levels. “Evidence suggests that higher nurse education is associated with lower risks of mortality and failure to rescue in acute-care hospitals,” Hoff said. “In collaboration with the OU College of Nursing, OU Health is committed to establishing seamless academic progression pathways for OU Health nurses.”
Hoff, who came to OU Health in January 2020, brings decades of nursing leadership experience in academic healthcare systems, including at the University of Illinois in Chicago and at Children’s Hospital Colorado. In previous roles, her efforts have led to the achievement of American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Magnet Designation, an advanced level of nursing excellence with a culture of mutual respect, autonomy and shared values.
“As a comprehensive academic healthcare system, we have a tremendous opportunity to transform our nursing enterprise,” Hoff said. “The OU College of Nursing is the largest nursing college in Oklahoma, and we bring many resources to the challenge of growing and retaining the nursing workforce, not only at OU Health but for similar institutions across the country.”
According to the American Nurses Association, there will be more registered nurse jobs available through 2022 than any other profession in the United States. Many factors contribute to the increased need. An aging population is driving demand for healthcare services, and nurses who are baby boomers are rapidly approaching retirement. Long working hours and high stress levels lead to burnout, which has been especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the state’s comprehensive academic healthcare system, OU Health treats a higher percentage of patients with complex diseases, requiring an increased bedside presence and skill level.
“Nurses are the backbone of healthcare, and there is a connection between adequate numbers of nurses and the quality of patient care,” said Ian Dunn, M.D., OU Health Interim Chief Physician Executive and Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at OU College of Medicine. “I am confident that we can build our nursing workforce and reduce turnover by creating an environment where each nurse is supported and valued as they provide high-quality care to our patients.”