Strong Receives $1.3 Million Grant to Transform ICU Nursing

Federal Money Will Help Fix Shortage in Critical Care Nursing

January 17, 2005

Strong Memorial Hospital has received a five-year, $1.35 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to get more nurses into intensive care units, train them better, and create better systems for patient care and career development.

It is the largest grant the hospital’s Nursing Department has ever received. Strong was among 38 hospitals selected from 336 applicants nationwide.

Traditionally, new nursing graduates need to work a year or more in a general care unit before beginning preparations to work in the more specialized, high-tech realm of an ICU. With this grant, Strong Hospital is establishing a rigorous, six-month orientation for new graduates to learn the technology and procedures for saving lives in a critical-care setting. As many as 24 new nurses a year can be trained under the grant, preparing them much more quickly for work in ICUs.

“On top of the national nursing shortage, there’s definitely a huge shortage of nurses in critical care,” says Nancy Freeland, clinical nurse specialist and education coordinator for the grant. “Now, with the grant, we’ll be able to recruit nurses into critical care nursing sooner, and they’ll be expertly trained and mentored throughout.”

With some of the grant money, the Nursing Department is buying computers for on-line learning and will purchase high-tech simulators so nurses can practice patient care without affecting real patients. The simulations will allow nurses to get focused, hands-on experience – the kind that typically would require much more time while already working in an ICU.

 “They’ll be getting much more advanced development of assessment skills,” says Freeland. “They’ll learn more about picking up subtle changes in a patient’s conditions, which can help them anticipate problems and be ready to respond more quickly.”

The grant’s co-directors, Gail L. Ingersoll, EdD, director of clinical nursing research, and Judith Baggs, PhD, RN, associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Nursing, see this as a chance to develop innovative ways to recruit and retain highly skilled nurses. Senior staff and leadership will receive advanced educational training, keeping them up-to-date with the latest ideas and approaches to care and management. National standards and best-practice guidelines will be applied to improve care delivery in the ICUs, and experts in education, research and administration will link with ICU nursing staff and management. Targeted recruitment of minorities will help increase diversity of the hospital’s work force.

Mentoring will be a major component of the new program. It’s vital, says Freeland, because nurses faced with the pressures and demands of critical-care nursing can “get lost” without support and guidance from more experienced workers. The grant will help pay for staff for formalized mentoring designed to retain nurses – just as important, Freeland notes, as recruiting nurses.

Likewise, career development and continuous learning opportunities are built into the new program. Grant money is available specifically for nurses to continue their education.

The new training program also will use management principles to develop teamwork and decision-making skills. Leadership development in unit managers will be designed to support systems changes introduced into the ICUs.

 Ultimately, all the changes – from training recent graduates to improving the working environment and teamwork within the ICUS – are designed to benefit patients. Nurses provide the majority of hands-on, bedside care, and several national studies have linked effective nursing departments with better patient outcomes and even higher survival rates.

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