August 2021 – The Journal of Healthcare Contracting
By Deanna Leonard
While it’s stating the obvious, it’s worth repeating that our healthcare workers fought and continue to fight a heroic battle against COVID-19. None of them could ever have imagined the physical, mental and emotional catastrophe they are valiantly encountering every day – or the toll it would take on them. For a number of reasons, nurses stand out for the challenges they faced and overcame during the darkest days of the pandemic. But they are human and, like all of us, they want to feel appreciated and rewarded for their hard work and sacrifice. The pandemic is not over, but employers need to find ways now to show their gratitude and loyalty to these highly respected professionals. Before we explore some of those benefits, let’s take a closer look at what nurses have experienced in the past year and a half.
Unimaginable Trials and Loss
Nursing is the largest healthcare profession in our country. Of the 3.8 million+ registered nurses, more than half of them work in general medical and surgical hospitals. They also provide most of the long-term care in the U.S.1 As of 2019, there were also 920,655 licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses (LPN/LVNs) in the United States.2 Picture these women and men going to work at the beginning of 2020 and seeing people of all ages struggling to breathe, alone and afraid in hospitals and long-term care facilities. Then think about how those nurses, and the facilities where they worked, had to desperately search for sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) so that they could stay well while caring for the sick and dying. Many nurses ended up reusing PPE for multiple shifts and isolated themselves from their families and friends in an effort to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began, nurses have worked unbearably long hours in stressful and overcrowded environments, but continue to show up. Many came out of retirement because they knew they had the skills and fortitude to face this healthcare crisis. Nurses provide much more than medical care; they offer compassionate support to patients who don’t know if they will ever see their families again. These people depend on nurses to help them survive, and to comfort them and their loved ones who can’t be with them.
Sadly, healthcare workers have not been immune from the deadly virus. The CDC reports that more than five million American healthcare personnel have contracted COVID-19, nearly 19 percent of all cases, and 1,691 have died as a result.3 A comprehensive investigative report by The Guardian and KHN reveals a much higher number: 3,607 U.S. healthcare worker deaths in the first year of the pandemic. Of those, nurses made up the largest group (32 percent). Reviewing that database, reading the stories of those lost and seeing many of their faces, truly drives home the sacrifices they made on behalf of their patients.4
Going Forward, More Good News than Bad
Let’s begin with the concerning news: the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post surveyed 1,327 frontline health care workers, and here is some of what they revealed:
- 62 percent report that COVID-19 stress and worry has a negative impact on their mental health
- 70 percent of the youngest workers (ages 18-29) feel “burned out” about work
- 56 percent of those working in hospitals report that their facility hit over-capacity of ICU beds
- 34 percent working in either hospitals or nursing homes say their workplace ran out of employee PPE at some point during the pandemic
- More than half report that their employer is “falling short” in providing additional pay to employees in the highest-risk situations
- Half of all surveyed feel “burned out” or “anxious,” with 21 percent also “angry” when they go to work.
Given these responses, it’s no wonder that nearly half (48 percent) of those who worked in hospitals and nursing homes during the pandemic, and whose facilities ran out of PPE and had an over-capacity ICU, were considering leaving healthcare!5 LPNs are facing challenges, too, from limited job opportunities, experience and education, to long hours, dealing with hazardous materials, problems with delegation, anonymity, and significantly lower pay than RNs.6
On the positive side, trends are emerging that should drive optimism in the nursing profession, such as:
- Unprecedented job growth
- Steady or increased salaries for RNs
- Greater participation in the enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact for travel nurses
- Higher value for bilingual nurses
- More nurses who specialize
- Increasing proportion of male nurses
- Growing tech savviness
- Postponed nurse retirements
- More awareness of common issues faced by nurses7
All I can say about that final trend is, “It’s about time!” People within and outside the healthcare industry often have taken nurses for granted; it seems that as this global pandemic moves through its second year, their contributions are finally being acknowledged – and rewarded.
Commit to Attracting and Incenting Nurses – and They’ll Be Loyal in Return
Like most of us, nurses want to be paid well for the value they provide to their workplace and its patients. They also want to clearly understand their job duties, know that there will be adequate staffing as well as opportunities to further their career if they choose, and work in a supportive environment.
We’ve all heard about the signing bonuses that hospitals and health systems are offering due to the ongoing shortage of nurses (which isn’t expected to go away anytime soon). According to Monster, employers are offering nurses other benefits such as flexible shifts, onsite child care, tuition reimbursement and scholarships, health club memberships, and free concierge services.8
What else can you do to capture the attention of potential nurse employees, and retain them once they join your facility? Consider providing them with uniform apparel, and cleaning it for them. Nurses find supplied uniform apparel to be a perk for numerous reasons:
- They don’t have to purchase and launder uniforms themselves, saving money and time
- They can count on having the right attire for every shift, enabling them to perform their duties under the best and worst conditions
- It enhances their self-image and identity as a nurse
- It reduces their worry about spreading infection outside the facility
- It enables patients and families to distinguish them from other employees, increasing nurse safety and satisfaction
- They value quality, comfort and style in their professional attire
By supplying uniform apparel to your nurses, you extend the awareness of your brand – and demonstrate your commitment to your employees and their professional appearance.
If you’re going to contract with a uniform apparel provider, be sure to identify one with a reliable order management/tracking/shipping/payment system, adequate supplies of all uniforms, a variety of product options, customizing capability, and top-quality brands, colors and fabrics that nurses prefer.
Sandra Lindsay, RN, a critical care nurse and intensive care unit director at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine last December. Now, the medical scrubs and badge she wore that day, along with her vaccination card, will be displayed as part of the COVID-19 exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Upon giving Ms. Lindsay the “Outstanding American by Choice” award, President Biden said, “If there are any angels in heaven … having spent a lot of time in the ICU, they’re all nurses — male and female. Doctors let you live. Nurses make you want to live.”9
Find ways to make your nurses want to work for you, by showing them that you value their devotion and expertise. You’ll find that it will be a win-win situation for them and your care facility.
Deanna Leonard, MBA, is Vice President and General Manager – Professional Healthcare Apparel, for Encompass Group, LLC.
8 https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/creative-benefits-for-nurses-hospitals9 https://www.cbsnews.com/news/smithsonian-nurse-covid-19-vaccine-scrubs