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Study shows investing in nurses may boost hospitals' bottom lines

UVA School of Nursing

Many medical centers have too few nurses, and Jane Muir – a researcher at UVA’s School of Nursing, says some are offering big bucks to those who are willing to come as contract or traveling staff.

“What brought me to this research was just seeing how many nurses, quite frankly, felt undervalued in their workplace, when they were working alongside travel nurses who made three times more than their salary,” she explains.

But those nurses can’t train new colleagues, and they don’t know other members of the team.

“These travel nurses aren’t familiar with the culture of hospitals or the certain policies or workflows specific to certain hospitals.”

Because they’re less familiar with their setting, Muir says, they may not provide the same quality of care.

“Ensuring that when a patient comes out of surgery they don’t have infections, ensuring that when they come into the emergency departments that we’re doing everything possible to ensure that they don’t fall. Nurses are the eyes 24/7 on these patients.”

If there are complications or poor outcomes, hospitals could receive lower payments from Medicare and Medicaid.

Using computer modeling to compare hospitals that had programs to retain staff with those that didn’t, Muir concluded medical centers could save money by paying and treating staff nurses well.

“We used economic modeling to compare hospitals that invest in burnout reduction intervention – safe staffing levels or well-being programs or opportunities for nurses to travel up a clinical ladder where they have autonomy and value in the organization compared to organizations that do not invest in those programs. Hospitals that are actively working to reduce nurse burnout can save $5-10,000 per nurse for each year they’re in the organization.

Good pay aside, she says, nurses must have a prominent place in making hospital policy:

“So much of healthcare leadership has an underrepresentation of nurses at the decision-making table. They are innovators. They are creative thinkers. They are tuned into patients. They are tuned into the systemic issues that we are facing, and we need to keep listening to them.”

And finally, she says, medical centers must also do more to help nurses cope with the daily stress of their jobs.

“If I had a family for several weeks on the unit that I adored, and the patient passes, that’s a challenging experience for me. What can I do in that moment before I have to see my next patient to help me recharge? Those are realistic solutions that we need to come up with. We’re doing that in other industries. We’re doing that at Google. We should be doing that in hospitals.”

Jane Muir, an emergency department nurse at UVA and a scholar studying ways to retain nurses in the workforce. Her ideas were recently published in the online journal STAT News.

Updated: February 3, 2022 at 1:01 PM EST
A note of disclosure: The University of Virginia is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.
Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief