PROGRESS 2022: Collaboration, innovation help ease nursing shortage

Courtesy Photo Clinical nurse educator Chanda Zbytowski, right, recently trains prospective hospital worker Kristi Namyslowski at MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena.

ollaborations and on-the-job training offer local solutions to a nursing shortage distressing hospitals nationwide.

Like many health care centers, MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena and its patients got walloped by the COVID-19 pandemic as hospital staff last year sickened and had to stay home, sometimes leaving patients waiting hours until the remaining staff could care for them.

Through investments in local workers and a partnership with Alpena Community College, the Alpena hospital has bounced back to strong staffing levels, said Julie Ward, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for MyMichigan Health, the Midland-based parent company of the Alpena hospital.

To up its staff, the hospital helps nurses pay tuition for the training required to care for patients.

ACC, in the meantime, has expanded its nurse-training offerings through a partnership with a university, allowing nurses to earn higher degrees while staying local.

A new program at the Alpena hospital offering hands-on training to people interested in helping nurses care for patients could provide another pipeline drawing people into the nursing profession.

The Alpena area depends on such steps to bolster its health care staffing levels, Ward said.

“The community deserves a health care system that can take care of them,” she said. “And they deserve the best quality care that’s available.”

During the height of the pandemic, the frontline work of medical staff led nationally to a nursing shortage, with nearly one in five hospital nursing positions going unfilled in 2022, according to the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

Michigan hospitals lost 1,300 staffed hospital beds in the past year because they did not have enough nurses to provide needed care, the association reported in October.

Last December, MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena faced an unprecedented staff shortage, then-President Chuck Sherwin told The News at the time.

Sherwin reported as many as 40 employees on leave at the same time because of COVID-19 or other medical issues. Others walked away from the medical profession, worn down by the stress of working in difficult conditions.

Forced to rely on outside employment agencies to continue care, the hospital filled with patients without adequate people to care for them, some left waiting for long stretches for a bed to open while care backed up hospital-wide.

Today, the hospital has drastically reduced its reliance on outside agencies to find staff. A partnership with ACC has helped it tap into the pool of local people who want to provide health care in Northeast Michigan and make those wishes attainable, Ward said.

MyMichigan funds partial nursing program tuition at ACC for people who meet its qualifications, with the understanding that those helped will work at the Alpena hospital for a time after graduation.

That collaboration has attracted some people new to health care and allowed current hospital workers to return to school for a higher degree, Ward said.

The college recently announced a new partnership with Saginaw Valley State University with the assistance of a $2 million grant from the state.

The collaboration will allow students to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the university while remaining on the Alpena campus.

ACC expects its first cohort of students in the program in fall 2023.

The collaboration stemmed from a plan that includes $56 million in the state’s 2023 budget to allow nurses with associate degrees to complete BSNs on community college campuses.

For those interested in health care but not ready to commit to college training in the field, the Alpena hospital recently launched a Patient Care Technician Training Program that, in a matter of weeks, prepares people with little to no medical background to assist with patient care.

In the program, trainees spend four classroom days learning from a nurse educator, followed by a week of job shadowing and four weeks working side-by-side with staff, providing basic care under a trainer’s supervision.

Three students enrolled in the program’s first class.

Recognizing that Alpena employers sometimes struggle to convince people who have never been to Northeast Michigan to move there, MyMichigan Health has contracted with a recruitment firm with a national reach, specifically to promote the Alpena hospital.

While the COVID-19 crisis has eased, the increasing demand for nurses continues. Employment opportunities for nurses will grow faster than all other occupations in the past decade, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted in October.

Last year, Alpena offered 1,661 health care and social assistance jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The community can encourage current medical staff to stick with the job by showing understanding when in the care of a nurse or other medical worker, Ward said.

“Be patient,” she said. “And kind.”


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