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U.Va. Health offers nurses a bonus this year

A full-time nurse at the hospital — eligible for a $3,000 bonus — shares insight into the crisis of nursing shortages

The healthcare labor market across the country is struggling with a nursing shortage. Facing the insecurity in preserving the present workforce, U.Va. Health will offer a bonus to nurses in order to prevent additional turnover. 

Eric Swensen, U.Va. Health public information officer, explained that all non-management nurses hired on or before April 4, who have provided frontline, patient-facing care during the last fiscal year and work 20 or more hours per week are eligible for the bonus. Full-time nurses working 30 or more hours per week will receive a $3,000 bonus while part-time nurses working 20 to 29 hours per week will receive a $1,500 bonus. The decision was announced on July 16, and the bonus will be offered one-time, starting on Aug. 13

For Jackie Keller, a full-time registered nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at the University Hospital, the decision was “awesome and amazing.” As a frontline worker during the pandemic, Keller is relieved to see the University starting to give back to those who had risked their personal health to keep others safe. However, Keller believes that the University Hospital needs to give more back to everyone who has been on the front lines. 

“I think that there are more people, other than the nurses, who should be getting some of the bonus,” Keller said. “I just hope that I actually see that happen.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for qualified nurses will increase much faster than the need for all professionals in the coming decade. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing points out that the nation will need about 175,900 new nurses each year until 2029 to fill new positions and replace retiring nurses.

“Our recruitment of nurses and other team members is driven primarily by the numbers of patients we care for and our plans for future growth,” Swensen said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “As we care for more patients and expand our services, it is likely we will need to hire more nurses to care for our patients.”

Insufficient staffing is also significantly raising the stress level for nurses and reducing the quality of care, but the problem is not new to the healthcare market. In a 2011 study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco found that higher nurse staffing levels were associated with lower rates of poor outcomes for patients. 

Additionally, Keller said nursing shortages can take a toll on the quality of their work life, the quality of patient care and the amount of time nurses can spend with patients.

“Each day when you are understaffed it is so stressful,” Keller said. “You are having to do a lot more on your own, because you don’t have as much help as you usually do. When you have more patients to take care of, you can’t spend more time with each patient as we would like to.”

In addition to the acute nursing shortage, an elevated rate in registered nurse turnover further exacerbates the problem. A report by Nursing Solutions, Inc. stated that the turnover rate for staff registered nurses increased by 2.8 percent over the past year and hospitals are experiencing a higher RN vacancy rate. According to Swensen, U.Va. Health currently has a nurse turnover rate of 19.1 percent, while the average nurse turnover rate in the Southeast sits at 24.9 percent .

Keller explains that the increase in turnover rate results from RNs feeling burnt out by stress. Many RNs have decided to become travel nurses, who are hired to work in temporary nursing positions on a contract basis. According to Keller, becoming travel RNs relieves a tremendous amount of stress when RNs feel overwhelmed by their work as employed nurses. 

“I think people like to become travel nurses because they have the opportunity to see what other hospitals are doing,” Keller said. “When you feel like you don’t have help or when you feel like your hospital is not listening to you, then you can find a different hospital that might listen to you or that might pay more.”

The increase in RN turnover rate puts a profound financial stress on hospitals. In order to fulfill the urgent need of staffing without having the time to train new nurses, hospitals must hire travel RNs even though they cost more than employed RNs. 

According to a survey by Nursing Solutions, Inc., “the average cost of turnover for a bedside RN is $40,038 and ranges from $28,400 to $51,700 resulting in the average hospital losing between $3.6m to $6.5m/yr. Each percent change in RN turnover will cost/save the average hospital an additional $270,800/yr.” 

Aside from offering the bonus, Keller points out that there are still many things that could be done to resolve the problem of nursing staff shortage. The value and care that hospitals dedicate to their staff members influence the strength of their commitment and satisfaction, she said.

“I think that one of the easiest things that a hospital can do to retain us is just to make it clear that they are actually listening to what the nurses are telling them and what the nurses are complaining about,” Keller said.

For Keller, offering the bonus is an effective way for U.Va. Health to show that they have been acknowledging the complaints from nurses.

Building and maintaining a quality workforce is paramount in navigating the shifting paradigm. According to Swensen, the University has launched an ongoing market equity review for all nursing roles to determine market competitiveness for pay. This decision, he said, is part of the University’s effort to be more competitive in the market and secure more staff members during a national crisis.