Is there a nurse in the house?

Much has been made of the national nursing shortage, and for good reason. According to the American Hospital Association, 126,000 nurses are needed to fill vacancies and approximately 75 percent of all hospital personnel vacancies are for nursing positions.

And with the average age of a nurse in Ohio at 47, an estimated 40 percent will retire within 10 years.

Just in case that’s not getting your attention, another study, commissioned by the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, reports that one of five nurses currently working is considering leaving the field for reasons other than retirement within five years.

With an ever-growing elderly population, the need for skilled nurses is critical, something that has not gone unnoticed by local hospitals.

“Approximately three years ago, we started with a very focused planning process on recruiting and retaining nurses,” says Cathy Koppelman, vice president of patient care services at Summa Health Systems.

After looking into Summa’s program, Koppelman and the planning committee attempted to discover what would make its program more attractive to both local and non-local nurses.

“We wanted to draw on information that was already out there,” she says.

The first order of business was to find out what nurses wanted.

“We discovered that compensation and benefits were the No. 1 concerns, and second was flexibility in scheduling, with it being a female-dominated profession with working mothers with childcare issues … and there is a trend to going back to school,” says Koppelman.

Summa’s staff concentrated on local recruitment and retention. What resulted was a program of flexible work schedules and scholarship programs to further education.

The flexible scheduling addressed the week/weekend rotation issues many hospitals face.

“Typically, at an inpatient acute hospital, you work shifts every other weekend, with rotation from days to nights every two weeks or so,” says Koppelman. “Our new approach is to provide schedules … to balance personal life and a commitment to work … and to be very flexible in that.”

The Summa program allows some nurses to work 24 hours every weekend — and be compensated for 36 hours and receive full-time benefits — while others work three 12-hour shifts with no weekend time scheduled.

More than 125 RNs and LPNs have taken advantage of the weekend option, and Summa has surpassed its goal of recruiting 100 new nurses to the program.

Koppelman and her staff took an aggressive approach to advertising its flexible nursing program.

“We did it in a number of different ways … including home mailers and radio ads,” she says.

If there is any question as to the success of the program, the results are quantifiable. While the national average vacancy rate for nursing positions ranges from 12 percent to 18 percent, Summa’s nursing vacancy rate is 6 percent.

“Our goal was to keep the turnover rate down,” says Koppelman.

It is a big culture change for everyone, not just the nurses who took advantage of the new scheduling.

“Our managers now have to come in on the weekend to accommodate the new shifts,” she says.

Flexibility in scheduling is just one way Summa has tried to retain its nursing staff. Other programs, like shared governance, competitive compensation and continued education programs are in place as well.

The real success for Koppelman is in providing a good work environment for a highly sought-after, skilled employee.

“Really, it comes down to the fact that people want to come and work at a place that they are respected,” she says. How to reach: Summa Health Systems, (330) 375-3000

Don’t ask, don’t ask

Contrary to the popular belief that Americans are seeking more health information — especially on the Internet — more than six of 10 adults in 2001 sought no information about a health concern, according to a national study by the Center for Studying Health System Change.

Nearly two-thirds, or about 117 million people, failed to seek any health information from a source other than their doctor in the previous year, and only one in six turned to the Internet for health information.

The study also found that:

* People with a college degree are twice as likely to seek health information as those without a high school diploma.

* Those with a postgraduate degree are more than seven times as likely to use the Internet to research a health concern as people who didn’t finish high school.

* Men are less likely than women, older people are less likely than younger ones, and people with low incomes are less likely than higher-income people to seek health information.

* Only 7.7 percent of people 65 and older used the Internet to find health information, compared with 19.3 percent of those ages 18 to 34.

* Of 78 million adults living with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease, more than half sought no health information.