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Better patient care expected as Navicent Health hires more nurses with new program

From left to right: CEO of Flex Health Greg Sanchez, President and CEO of Navicent Health Ninfa Saunders, Chief Nursing Executive of Navicent Health Tracey Blalock, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of Navicent Health Chris Cornue, and Managing Director of Fitzroy Health James Nicholls.
From left to right: CEO of Flex Health Greg Sanchez, President and CEO of Navicent Health Ninfa Saunders, Chief Nursing Executive of Navicent Health Tracey Blalock, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of Navicent Health Chris Cornue, and Managing Director of Fitzroy Health James Nicholls. smax@macon.com

Better patient care is one of the goals of a new program aimed at bringing more nurses to Middle Georgia.

As nursing shortages plague health care providers across the country, Navicent Health has launched Flex Health to widen its staffing pool. The new initiative is a for-profit company founded in partnership with Fitzroy Health, a New York-based health care investment firm. Its purpose is to innovate staffing practices to hire more nurses at a lower cost to the hospital.

“By building that internal pool and bringing more nurses that are in this area, or from around this area, and building on that, we’re going to have better patient care,” Flex Health CEO Greg Sanchez said at a news conference at the Peyton Anderson Health Education Center Friday. “We’re going to have the value that they bring, and it’s going to cause patients to feel more comfortable. And not to mention, I think you’re going to have a lot more patients because of it.”

The need for registered nurses is expected to grow 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, much higher than the average employment growth rate of 7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rapid increase in need has set back hospitals nationwide, but Chief Nursing Executive of Navicent Health Tracey Blalock said the shortage has hit Georgia especially hard. Georgia also has a physician shortage, she said, prompting nurses to abandon bedside care to seek further training. Blalock said most facilities face 20 to 25 percent vacancy rates for full-time employees.

“Many of our nurses are going back to school to become advanced practice nurses, CRNA’s (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist), nurses practitioners,” Blalock said. “So that leaves a void of the nurses that are providing care to the patients at the bedside.”

In May 2017, one of Navicent Health’s staffing recruiters suggested the hospital develop a new system to hire and retain employees that would better serve the needs of nurses, particularly millennials who rely more on technology to search for jobs. In the months that followed, a team from Navicent Health’s Center for Disruption and Innovation and Fitzroy Health began to study its hiring practices and research potential alternatives and improvements.

Managing Director of Fitzroy Health James Nicholls said the team decided to focus on expanding the hospital’s float pool, a system it already had in place to coordinate part-time nurses that was underutilized.

After nearly a year of planning, Flex Health started operation on April 9. Since then, the 10-person staff at Flex Health has nearly quadrupled the number of employment agencies the hospital works with to find nurses, Blalock said.

“That has allowed us to have a wider breadth of staff to try to, you know, come and work here at Navicent,” Blalock said. “So, it’s like more of a team approach versus one person trying to do all of these roles.”

With more nurses, Blalock said Navicent Health’s patient intake has increased and beds that had been empty are now occupied again. The hospital also has been able to lower its nurse to patient ratio, so nurses can spend more time with fewer patients.

As the program continues to progress, Flex Health plans to expand, first offering its services to other hospitals in Georgia and eventually to health care providers across the country. But for now, the program is focused on providing better care to patients here in Macon and employing more local nurses.

“This is a win-win for Macon as a community, because, us being in Macon, all of our hires that we have for internal staff are right here for Macon,” Sanchez said. “So it’s going to help the job employment here in Macon, as well, as we continue to grow and continue to hire more employees.”

Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/samantha.max.9 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.

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