SSM Health launches flexibility programs for nurses

SSM Health, the St. Louis-based healthcare provider that owns St. Mary’s Hospital, has reshaped its approach to working for nurses to help develop and retain nurses.

Some residual challenges remain in healthcare following the COVID-19 pandemic.

So many nurses in every community, not just Jefferson City, have transitioned to “travel nursing” which tests the efforts of healthcare professionals to attract and retain talented nurses, according to Stormy Anderson, senior director of human resources for SSM Health in Mid-Missouri.

Demand for travel nurses – those who work for an agency and replace health workers – exploded during the pandemic, according to https://www.healthaffairs.org. Pay was higher and hours were shorter, although traveling nurses spent time away from home.

In many cases, staff working in those health care facilities resented the fact that temporary employees made far more than they did and morale was hurt, according to the site.

SSM Health sought to provide greater flexibility in the tasks each unit’s nurses could attend and the hours they worked.

According to Janet Wear-Enloe, director of business development and marketing, the nurses who dedicated themselves to the travel nurse wanted that flexibility, but they also wanted to earn a full-time salary. SSM Health looked at the hospitals’ PRN levels. PRN (pro re nata, or “as the situation requires”) are registered nurses who work shifts as needed.

“Typically, you’re PRN for one unit (like ICU) or another,” Wear-Enloe said. “We have nurses who are really skilled and passionate about the ICU. So, they can be a PRN nurse in the ICU.”

Because they’re in the PRN state, they don’t normally get full benefit packages, he continued. There are different reward levels available for PRN because they don’t get the normal benefits, he said.

SSM Health has seven new programs that allow nurses to shape their careers, giving them greater freedom, flexibility and earning potential.

Each program has slightly different job expectations than others. Nurses are able to select roles that suit their individual and professional preferences.

SSM Health PRN programs one through three allow nurses to work around their schedule to collect a few extra shifts each month. With PRN Four, nurses can enjoy the benefits of full-time travel nursing without losing their home or experiencing the uncertainty of agency or freelance work. These “float pool” programs (when nurses fill up while hiring staff in reduced units, or at times when the number of hospitalized patients exceeds the maximum capacity of a unit per nurse set by safety and quality standards) give nurses the opportunity to experience different SSM Health regions or specialties.

SSM Health prefers that the nurses in the floating pool are experts in at least three different areas.

“As more and more companies offer attractive alternatives to traditional work, SSM Health has seen the need to develop a profitable program for today’s caregivers,” according to a press release from SSM Health. Registered nurses with flexible nursing roles qualify for pay practices rarely offered to that segment of the workforce, including shift differentials, critical shift bonuses, and bonuses.

Nurses can discover new ways of working while doing what they love. SSM health recruiters are ready to chat and create a schedule that fits their lifestyle. Learn more about SSM Health’s flexible nursing options by visiting https://jobs.ssmhealth.com/career-areas/flexiblenursing.

Cynthia Dixon, vice president and chief of nursing at SSM Health, said the health worker developed a strategic task force earlier this year.

“They started looking: what are nurses looking for now and in the future?” Dixon said. “What incentives nurses?”

The purpose of the program is to retain existing staff and retain new nurses in Jefferson City, Dixon added.

“Those nurses who travel to other states – we want to try to keep them here in the Missouri market, specifically in Jefferson City,” Dixon said.

The task force contacted nurses in Missouri and nurses in the states surrounding Missouri, he said. They wanted answers on what younger nurses want, she said.

“What they found is that (the nurses) wanted more freedom. They wanted to earn higher salaries,” Dixon said. “A large percentage don’t necessarily want benefits.”

After several months, the task force put the programs together in hopes of standardizing all SSM hospitals so that they all offer similar packages and incentives to nurses.

Having flexibility also helps the hospital because it prevents the provider from having to hire more people during the flu season (fall), when they may or may not need them.

“This was our way to truly allow nurses to stay where they love to care for their community members,” Wear-Enloe said. “But you also get the opportunity to gain more experience in different areas.”

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