More on Workforce

Nursing shortage prompts St. Louis children's hospital to offer summers off

The lax summer months affords the facility an opportunity to experiment with the staffing option, and it hopes to attract nurses as a result.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The nursing shortage is a very real phenomenon, and while it's poised to get worse as Americans get older, the effects are being felt today at hospitals all over the country. To address their own shortage, a St. Louis children's hospital has adopted a new policy: Nurses get summers off.

Mercy Children's Hospital is unveiling the new staffing option. According to KMOV St. Louis, there are far fewer patients who walk through the hospital's doors in the summer. Staff is typically much busier during the school year, and especially during flu season. The lax summer months affords the facility an opportunity to experiment with the staffing option, and it hopes to attract nurses as a result.

Nurses who go with the seasonal staffing option would work three shifts a week from September to June -- a full-time schedule -- but when June hits they would have the option to take time off while retaining their full-time benefits, with their jobs guaranteed when the school year starts anew.

Mercy is initiating the new staffing option as a means of weathering the nursing shortage, but for those already employed, it may address a burnout issue, as well. Nurses operate within a highly competitive job market, and as is the case in other high-stress fields, burnout is a very real danger. Much like physicians, nurses are prone to leaving when they've finally had enough -- and that turnover can have detrimental effects on everything from a hospital's financial strength to the quality of patient care.

Retaining staff becomes even more important when factoring in the aging baby boomer population, which sees thousands of Americans reaching Medicare age each day. And with a looming shortage of physicians being predicted by many researchers and hospitalists, nurses are growing in importance -- meaning communication and accommodation are long-term workforce strategies every hospital should consider.

The seasonal staff at Mercy Children's will get a stipend every couple of weeks to help cover insurance costs. They can also use any accrued paid time off to pay themselves during the summer, or even pick up additional shifts, if they so choose -- which officials told KMOV would make things easier for nurses who want to grab extra shifts but are often challenged by other nurses jockeying for those hours.

Mercy is currently interviewing pediatric nurses for those positions, with the contract year starting in September. The first summer-off option will be in 2019, and if all goes well, hospital leadership may expand seasonal staffing to other departments.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: