The Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) has selected Jenna Ahlawat to serve as the new director of its Safety and Quality Task Force. It will guide hospital leaders in handling workforce capacity and safety initiatives. Its initial focus will be on establishing nurses’ committees.
Washington State Hospitals face major challenges in staffing and financing, often relying on mobile nurses to operate at full capacity. Ahlawat discusses some of the goals and initiatives aimed at addressing the challenges of the country’s workforce in these questions and answers.
Get the latest state policy intelligence for the healthcare sector delivered to your inbox.
repair status: Can you discuss some of your key goals/responsibilities in your new position as WSHA Safety and Quality Manager?
Jenna Ahlawat: “Workforce retention and employment has been a high priority for every industry for two and a half years in the pandemic, but especially for hospitals and healthcare employers. Our members’ staff have been asked to advance in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. They exposed themselves and their families at risk to care for patients while they deal with the same child care and other challenges as everyone else.This is why WSHA and its members felt it necessary to create a position dedicated solely to helping hospitals support their workforce.
Washington State has a Nurses Recruitment Commission Act that is seen as a model for states across the country. Every hospital in our state has a committee made up of at least 50% direct care nurses. They are generally led by nurse leaders in the hospital. It is a forward-thinking paradigm that recognizes the complexity and dynamic nature of patient care employment in a hospital, in particular addressing the unique aspects of different hospitals and units within those hospitals.
These committees meet regularly to develop nurse recruitment plans for the hospital and to address any concerns about the nurse staff. Our members have told us that committees are key to making decisions about how staff can best care for patients, and I know this is true from my own experience leading the Nurses Committee. One of my primary responsibilities in this position is to work directly with nurse-led recruitment committees in hospitals to support their goal of following best practices for running committees.”
SOR: Washington hospitals are currently facing many workforce challenges, as well as some financial difficulties. What do you think are some of the key areas to focus on to address these workforce issues?
GA: “I was chief nursing officer here in Washington just two months ago, so I know firsthand the workforce challenges hospitals face today.
Washington state is not immune to a nationwide nursing workforce shortage. according to The Washington Center for Nursing Care 2021 Nursing Workforce Supply Data Report, published two months ago, 89% of the nearly 100,000 licensed registered nurses in Washington work as nurses. Others hold valid licenses but are retired, working in other states or other fields, going back to school, or taking time out to care for family. Less than 1.5% were unemployed and trying to find work in nursing.
Meanwhile, there are about 6,000 nursing positions vacant in Washington hospitals alone. This does not include nursing vacancies in clinics, surgery centers, public health or long-term care facilities. We simply do not have enough nurses in our state to fill all known vacancies. Not only should we absolutely retain our current nursing workforce, but we should also bring more nurses to Washington and invest in educating more nurses.
As per 2022 data From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington state has the fifth highest RN wages in the country, with an average wage of $96,980. We were It was recently ranked as the No. 1 state for nurses’ work In a study by NerdWallet. But these factors have not brought enough nurses into the state to resolve the shortage.
The state should do everything it can to attract nurses to work in hospitals and other health care facilities and increase the number of nursing students in Washington. We would like to see the state invest in a hospital nursing student loan repayment assistance program, provide grants to help with childcare and transportation costs, increase nursing faculty wages and join the 37 other states that have already joined the Nurse Licensing Charter to allow nurses training elsewhere to more easily transition to Washington State. All these measures will be beneficial.”
SOR: I understand that your initial focus will be on implementing highly reliable nurse committees. Can you discuss the role of these committees in addressing workforce issues?
GA: “Well-managed nurse-led staffing committees help hospitals retain high-quality nurses because they ensure that nurses have a say in the way their units are staffed and allow hospitals to maintain flexibility in the way they work, so nurses have more flexibility in the schedules that they They work while balancing the need to provide 24/7 patient care.
Recruitment committees are a locally driven team approach to recruitment that reflects the staffing needs of each unique hospital, and we want to ensure that it is effective across all hospitals.”
SOR: Do you have any other initial ideas on how to complete the state hospital workforce at this time?
GA: “We are partnering with the Nursing Committee, the Washington Center for Nursing, and nursing schools to better understand critical gaps in the nurse staff and where we have opportunities to fill those gaps. Further investment in rural nursing and continuing education support for employees who begin in careers such as nursing and paramedics to become RNs are proven strategies. We want to see its expansion.
Facilitating out-of-state legal practitioners in Washington is also an important opportunity that we’re missing, so we want to better understand why Washington can’t do the compact work when 37 other countries can.
I’ve talked a lot about nurses, but the challenges of the health care workforce go beyond nurses. We’re also building workforce pipelines for other members of patient care teams using some of the same strategies.
WSHA members have also undertaken a statewide, multi-year initiative to disseminate best practices for employee retention across our member hospitals. As a first step in this effort, nearly 100% of our members have agreed to conduct executive hearings with hospital staff to better understand what they are doing well and what can be done to make work in Washington hospitals better. “
These questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.