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Continuing our rundown of the stories that resonated with readers, we look at stories examining ways to improve staffing, sustainability and technology.
Hospital leaders have bemoaned a nationwide shortage of nurses, and nursing leaders argue that more flexible scheduling would help keep nurses from walking away.
Increasingly, some nursing leaders say it’s time to move away from the 12-hour shifts employed by many hospitals. While some younger nurses prefer working 12-hour shifts, enabling them to work a few days a week, nursing industry leaders and advocates say health systems must develop other scheduling options.
Advocates for moving away from 12-hour shifts make several points. Those shifts are extremely difficult for nurses who have children. Some advocates say many nurses who have young children leave the profession, or at least get out of full-time roles, because it’s too difficult to manage 12-hour shifts when raising school-age kids. As nurses get older, the 12-hour shifts get more difficult, nursing leaders say.
Some say moving to shorter nursing shifts would improve patient safety, and federal officials have voiced concerns over declines in patient safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vicki Good, executive director of nursing for Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, strongly advocates for moving away from 12-hour shifts. She’s a past president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses board of directors.
“It’s the worst thing from a safety perspective and from a long-term workforce perspective that we could have ever done in nursing,” Good said.
Hospitals were facing a shortage of nurses before COVID-19 ever appeared, but the pandemic has driven more nurses to leave the profession due to the stress and fatigue. Many nurses say they plan to leave their practice within the next two years.
“We have to look at alternative staffing models,” Good said. “The traditional staffing models aren’t going to cut it in the future, unless we can look at an alternative way to get more nurses.”
Technology companies have made bold claims about their ability to fix the healthcare industry.
Mike Sicilia, the executive vice president of Oracle’s business units, said there’s a reason others have stubbed their toes, as he put it.
Speaking at the Oracle Cerner Health Conference in Kansas City in October, Sicilia said tech firms have stumbled in the past because “they haven’t taken on enough of the problem.”
Oracle Cerner won’t make the mistake of thinking too small, Sicilia said.
Oracle Cerner aims to address the information technology challenges of healthcare, from improving electronic health records to revamping back office systems, payment and claim systems. He said that’s the differentiator in Oracle Cerner’s approach.
The health conference took place a few months after Oracle completed its $28-billion acquisition of Cerner, the nation’s second largest electronic health records company .
In a June event, Larry Ellison, Oracle chairman of the board and chief technology officer, positioned healthcare as the focus of the company.
Sicilia and other Oracle Cerner executives certainly hammered home that message at the conference Monday, which was streamed online.
“This is the most important thing we’ve ever done in the history of Oracle,” Sicilia said.
David Feinberg, chairman of Oracle Health, touted the promise of one of the world’s leading technology companies with a leader in electronic health records.
“Oracle and Cerner are going to allow you to care for your patients and communities like never before,” Feinberg said.
Hospitals and health systems are facing more demands to reduce their environmental impact, and the pressure is coming from several areas.
The federal government is taking a greater interest in seeing hospitals reduce their emissions. The healthcare industry is responsible for 8.5% of America’s carbon emissions, federal officials say.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., sent a letter to hospital systems asking them what they are doing to reduce emissions. In addition, health system boards, employees, environmental advocates, and bond rating agencies want to know what hospitals are doing to address sustainability.
Health leaders addressed sustainability during a panel discussion at the American Hospital Association Leadership Summit last month.
The health ecosystem must be built around making the right decisions from an environmental and sustainability perspective, said Simrit Sandhu, Vizient’s executive vice president for strategic transformation and clinical supply solutions.
“This cannot be an initiative,” Sandhu said. “This has to be the new normal.”
Shelly L. Schlenker, CommonSpirit Health’s executive vice president and chief advocacy officer, stressed the importance of getting health leaders to see the financial benefits of sustainability efforts.
“In every instance, you can make the business case,” she said.
By reducing energy costs, Schlenker said, “That’s money in your pocket.”
It’s no secret that healthcare organizations are under immense pressure as operating margins decline, budgets shrink and staff struggle with fatigue and burnout, wrote Steve Jackson, general manager, exchange services for GHX, a software-as-a-service company.
To help address these challenges, many are taking a closer look at where and how they can reduce costs and minimize the impact of employee vacancies while delivering better patient outcomes. One viable path forward is through the digital transformation of the healthcare supply chain.
COVID-19 showed many healthcare organizations just how limiting their legacy IT systems are. These systems cannot support the need for accurate and real-time forecasting nor management and re-allocation of supplies across their organization.
Business decision makers at healthcare organizations also learned their legacy systems were keeping important data trapped in silos, resulting in a number of discrepancies.
This is challenging, at best, when item data is not easily accessible throughout the organization. Adding to this, item data that’s trapped in silos may not synchronize with the latest contract, causing discrepancies and incorrectly priced orders between the hospital and its suppliers. This results in more administrative work, leading to delays and potential impacts to patient experience and care.
In a digital-first future, health systems should be able to dynamically identify where inventory exists and reallocate it to the areas with the highest demand. When information remains in individual systems, or is not easily available to decision makers, it holds back the entire industry.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the pace of hospital consolidation, Ochsner Health bucked the trend.
Ochsner Health completed its merger with Rush Health Systems, announcing Aug. 1 that the deal was done. Rush is now Ochsner Rush Health. The deal brings seven more hospitals into Ochsner Health, which is based in Louisiana and operates 40 hospitals in the Gulf South.
Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health, spoke with Chief Healthcare Executive about the merger, the work to complete the deal, and the plans to expand healthcare services in Mississippi.
“We’re really excited at Ochsner about merging Rush Health into Ochsner Health,” Thomas says. “I think it’s going to be great for the citizens in that community and great for that organization. We’ve been working on this for a long time. This has been a long time coming.”
The two systems announced their intention to merge in June 2021.
“The team’s done a great job on this, and we’re just excited to have it completed,” Thomas says. “And now we’ll work on the integration. Now the hard work comes.”
Thomas, who led Ochsner Health for a decade, recently left the organization to become the chief executive officer of Sutter Health in California. Pete November, Ochsner’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, took over as CEO of the Louisiana-based system on Nov. 1, appropriately enough.