December 17, 2018

Across the country, hospitals are facing an unprecedented nursing shortage, and Charleston Area Medical Center is no exception. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, this shortage is the result of many factors, including low enrollment in nursing schools, a large segment of the nursing workforce nearing retirement, an increased need for more nurses to care for an aging population and high turnover rates affecting access to health care and job satisfaction.

In an effort to combat this crisis and initiate critical discussions at all levels of management, CAMC assembled a team of representatives from professional nursing, nurse managers, human resources, marketing and the CAMC Foundation to develop a series of initiatives to identify opportunities for improvement.

“We had to figure out what we could offer to ensure that nurses would want to be part of the CAMC team and stay in our community,” said Anita Ferguson, recruitment and workforce development manager. “We needed to simultaneously strengthen both our recruitment and retention efforts, and we spoke directly with our nurses and involved them in the process to develop a strategic plan.”

The resulting plan outlined long- and short-term goals for improving job satisfaction for CAMC’s existing nurses, strengthening organizational and occupational pride within the community, supporting recruitment efforts for new and traveling nurses, and encouraging employed nurses to advance.

In 2016, CAMC invested more than $2.5 million in the adjusted pay structure for all registered nurses in the inpatient setting. “This ensured that we remained competitive in the marketplace,” said Mary Caldwell, corporate director of benefits and compensation. “We also simplified our nursing career ladder to provide nurses more opportunities for advancement. Policy changes in staffing, per diem and weekender contracts and reinstatement were also made to improve job satisfaction.”

Also in early 2016, CAMC launched a multimedia marketing campaign entitled “Be the Reason.”

“The goal was to not only attract experienced nurses, but also to appeal to high school and college students to pursue nursing as a career, thus keeping new nurses in the pipeline,” said Elizabeth Pellegrin, chief marketing officer.

CHECK OUT: CAMC’s special webpage for nursing. The page includes everything you need to know about becoming a nurse at CAMC including openings, education and tuition assistance and loan forgiveness.

“Our market research showed that the campaign made an impact,” said Julia Noland, marketing strategist. “Results showed increased positive perceptions of our nursing care and staff friendliness in both our primary and secondary service areas.”

The campaign will continue for the next few years, with evolving strategies and messaging aimed at both experienced nurses and students.

In July 2017, the CAMC Foundation board of directors approved a multimillion dollar initiative to support a series of programs that provide financial and education assistance to employees, dependents and nursing students that include student RN tuition assistance, employee tuition assistance, employee dependent tuition assistance for clinical careers, employee loan forgiveness and new graduate loan forgiveness.

“The CAMC Foundation has a history of raising money, receiving gifts and giving money for nursing education, and realizing the extreme need in our present situation, we wanted to expand that legacy of educating nurses,” said Gail Pitchford, president of the CAMC Foundation. “We’ve all been touched by the wonderful care provided by nurses, and our generous donors were eager to repay that kindness.”

In 2016, CAMC had more than 300 vacant nurse positions. Today that number has been cut in half -- in a highly competitive market for nurses. “We’re seeing the fruits of our labor,” Ferguson said. “Vacancies are down, turnover rates are decreasing, and we have more nurse externs and graduate nurses in the pipeline year over year.”

“This is a different generational voice in many cases, and the way they like to learn and the way they like to work is different from what we’ve seen in the past,” said Heidi Edwards, RN, chief nursing officer. “We have to consistently innovate and evolve to meet their needs.”

“As the largest health care provider in southern West Virginia, we feel an obligation to provide quality health care for our community by educating and employing qualified nurses,” said Dave Ramsey, CEO. “We also saw this as an opportunity to stimulate economic development in our state by providing educational opportunities and ensuring steady employment for nurses after graduation.”

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