Southeast Health’s nursing team is 900 strong – and growing!

By Tena Knight, MSN, ACNS-BC, Associate Chief Nursing Officer, Southeast Health

Nursing shortages remain a regional and national issue creating challenges everywhere, including here in Dothan. As you may remember, we communicated in September staggering nursing shortage numbers this country is facing. It is estimated to be between 340,000 to more than a million vacancies, which now includes 75 unfilled full-time positions at Southeast Health Medical Center, down from 100.

Despite the challenges healthcare providers are experiencing filling nursing positions, we have made tremendous progress thanks to changes initiated by our CEO and supported by our board of directors, who made decisions and strategic investments focused on establishing Southeast Health as the employer of choice.

You see, the success of our hospital largely depends on having a strong nursing team. So the approach was simple: we asked our current nursing team members, “What do we need to do to attract, train and retain nurses?” Based on their answers, a well-defined recruitment and retention plan was put in place with a goal to establish Southeast Health as an employer of choice. Here are some of the steps we’ve taken:

  • Early Recruitment – We are focused on attracting new graduates by employing them prior to graduation in our nurse tech program. This program is helping introduce a new generation of practitioners to the real-world skills and competencies that are needed to be successful. We currently have 70 nursing students participating in this program.
  • Orientation – A new nurse’s ability to succeed is highly influenced by the onboarding program. We enhanced our orientation program allowing nurses more transition time and protected training time.
  • Financial Incentives – Sign on bonus and student loan forgiveness are available for new graduates. These programs help ease the financial burden of nursing school loans in exchange for a commitment.
  • Compensation – We increased the pay for our bedside nurses which helped Southeast Health become the highest paying hospital in the Wiregrass.
  • Recognition – We implemented programs that openly recognize and reward high performing nurses.

This plan has led to higher job satisfaction, increased retention rates and we’ve seen improvements in recruitment efforts. In January, 52 nurses (new graduates and experienced nurses) joined the Southeast Health team. This was the largest recruitment class we have ever had.

The positive energy, engagement and enthusiasm we are seeing at Southeast Health begins with our Chief Nursing Officer, Melissa Owens. Melissa began her career at Southeast Health as a bedside nurse. She has progressed through the organization’s leadership, eventually earning the top-spot in nursing leadership. She has a no-nonsense approach and is driving the organization to new heights in terms of accountability.

Credit also goes to the dynamic nurse leaders, who have led many of these efforts to retain and attract outstanding nurses. Today, the results of this cultural shift and drive towards accountability is reflected in improved patient satisfaction and quality outcomes. Key quality metrics such as reduced catheter associated urinary tract infections, central line blood stream infections and decreased patient falls are moving in the right direction – and our goal is zero. Our end goal is to be a hospital that performs within the 90th percentile nationally when compared to the 5,500 hospitals nationwide.

As part of our focus on quality and nurse retention we have committed to decreasing nurse-to-patient ratios to allow our nurses more time at the bedside. Once fully implemented, we believe this change will have the most profound impact on nurse satisfaction and the total patient experience.

As a nurse that has served in this organization for 23 years, I am proud of the strides we are making as a team. Is there more that we can do, and should do? You bet there is, and we will. Our journey to become a top 100 hospital and the employer of choice has just begun. One thing we know is we can’t get there without the full commitment and engagement of our nurses, and other team members.

Today, I am grateful to have more than 900 amazing nurses at Southeast Health who have dedicated their lives to caring for others. And I’m excited to welcome 52 new nurses who bring new ideas and enthusiasm to our organization.