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The nurse shortage was an issue before COVID-19, but the ongoing pandemic and nurse burnout are adding to the problem. Healthcare leaders are taking action and opening their minds to innovation in staffing because the future of the nursing workforce depends on it. 


In SimpliFi’s first session of RED2021, “Navigating Labor Challenges in a Pandemic,” executives from leading healthcare systems shared what has worked to increase their bedside nursing capacity and offered ideas on how to offset the nursing shortage in the future.

Nurses Returning to Care

Some hospitals are incentivizing nurses who have left the bedside to come back to the profession. Chief Nurse Executive Claire Zangerle with Allegheny Health Network said some of these nurses left the practice to raise kids, take care of parents, or just to get a break. Allegheny partnered with a university to create a return-to-nursing program that consisted of an online refresher course to give these former nurses a chance to get back to the bedside. 


“They take the online refresher course, which is self-paced based on their needs. Then, we pair them up with somebody to shadow on a unit where they want to work, and they get to choose their schedule,” Zangerle explained.


Allowing these nurses to work on their own schedules has been the best approach for Allegheny to reduce barriers for former nurses to come back to practice.


“There is not one hour of one day that we can’t use a nurse at the bedside,” Zangerle stated. “So, we let them kind of set their own schedule. We don’t pigeonhole them into 12-hour shifts. They get paid a different hourly rate for the convenience of being able to work four hours this day, eight hours this day, twelve hours this day, but they like that.”


Reintroducing licensed practical nurses (LPNs) into healthcare systems is another approach to acquiring more caretakers. Zangerle said it’s a taboo subject as many health systems, including Allegheny, are working to increase the number of professionals with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. However, in Allegheny’s blended nursing model, Zangerle shared they are bringing LPNs back into the organization, even if it takes some extra time for skill-building.


“We are working with our local schools and technical schools that educate LPNs,” Zangerle explained. “It’s a great entry-level position for many people who don’t know if they want to be a registered nurse.”


Sharon Pappas, Chief Nurse Executive at Emory Healthcare, said while they haven’t changed their approach to using LPNs, her health system is partnering with a university for an LPN-to-BSN program to give LPNs a path of growth in their education and careers.

International Nurses

At Allegheny Health Network, Zangerle said her health system added some international nurses to its bedside care. These nurses, found through travel nurse agencies, agree to three-year contracts in the United States, and Allegheny has experienced good retention with them so far.


“At this point, we probably have a 60% retention rate of them signing on permanently, which is great,” Zangerle shared. “They’re so excited to be in the United States, and they’ve lived through COVID-19 with us.”

New Nurse Grads

The pandemic made it more difficult for nurse grads to get the clinical practice they needed due to safety restrictions in hospitals. So, when graduated nurses hit the hospital floor in the summer of 2020, healthcare executives said they didn’t come with as much experience.


“Not only were they not clinically mature, but they had never laid a hand on a COVID-19 patient, and now their practice was marching into a very robust COVID-19 world,” said Beth Beckman, the Chief Nursing Executive at Yale New Haven Health System.


But the difficulty of onboarding new nurse grads was an issue even before the pandemic. That’s why some health systems are taking a new approach, like SimpliFi’s Confidence Accelerating Practice (CAP) program, to training new nurse grads. 

SimpliFi’s CAP Program

SimpliFi CAP program logo

Standard nurse onboarding models can overwhelm a nurse preceptor with the responsibilities of training new grads and still caring for a full patient load. During the pandemic when resources are limited and stress is an issue, there needs to be a new onboarding strategy to eliminate potential burnout for the preceptor and nurse turnover. 


SimpliFi created the CAP program to enable health systems to train and retain their nursing workforce of the future. Through the CAP model, recent nurse grads are integrated into patient assignments at a pace that the preceptor, solely focused on training, can explain all the necessary details. The CAP program has seen great success and is molded to fit the unique demands of each health system.


Building the future nursing workforce will require innovative strategies. If you would like to hear how SimpliFi can help your health system with any staffing challenges, contact us.