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No One on Duty: Will Healthcare Be in Jeopardy in 2020?


So what's being done?

"I don't want to feed the fever of frightening people," Foley tells WebMD. "We see the warning signs. Now let's gather our resources. The public needs to say that putting my family and me at risk is not acceptable."

She's firing up nursing leaders across the country, getting them to recruit more nurses and address short-term hospital problems -- like adding more staffing and equipment on patient care units. Providing specialty training and better pay is also a critical piece of the puzzle, says Foley.

"The hospital industry has not invested well in giving nurses specialty training," Foley tells WebMD. "We have a backlog of nurses who have not been prepared for critical care units, emergency care, labor and delivery, and surgery. All they need is a stipend to cover living expenses, and they do very, very well. They stay employed rather than move on. They can really contribute their many years of expert nursing instead of running around, trying to keep the Band-Aids on."

At Massachusetts General, Jellinek says, "We've paid a lot of attention to this. Our nurse vacancy rate is pretty low and our nurse retention rate is pretty high."

Other hospitals can learn from what's helped Massachusetts General: Bringing on temporary workers to shore up nursing units when necessary. Establishing training programs through local community colleges. Setting up internal education programs to help people build career paths. Giving bonuses to employees who bring on a friend. Getting high school and college students involved in internships. Accepting welfare-to-work programs. Providing opportunities to work in suburban hospitals, to alleviate commuting hassles.

Massachusetts General also puts a lot of emphasis on cultivating good morale, says Jellinek. The philosophy: "Once we have someone, we don't want to lose them when they advance in their career. We want to facilitate that advance."


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