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Nurses Week: More staffing still needed in health care

Challenges remain for hospitals to hire and retain these professionals.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Just as "National Nurses Week" got started Monday, the challenges remain for hospitals to hire and retain these professionals.

2 On Your Side found there are some encouraging signs of recovery from the pandemic pressures for ECMC but it's not clear for other local hospitals and their systems. 

ECMC executives and nurses proudly marked National Nurses Week by raising a flag for the Pathway to Excellence. That program calls for nurses to have a greater voice in the workplace. That means the ER, hospital wards, and other areas of patient care. There is also an understanding that they still need more nurses and other professionals in the system.

It's all reflected by the nearby staff recruitment billboard for Erie County Medical Center on the Kensington Expressway. 

They have made some progress according to Senior Vice President for Nursing Charlene Ludlow who says "In the last several months we hired over 290 nurses and next week we'll be launching one of our largest nursing classes. It'll be starting with over 50 - probably 60 nurses starting next week. And every month we've been having our orientation classes growing."

While they still may have gaps in trauma or the ER and the intensive care unit, there has been an ongoing effort for more professional development and promotion from within. That involves bringing nurses from the medical-surgical wards into those specialized units.

They still have vacancies but they're also finding that some nurses, who had left to take potentially more lucrative positions with travel agencies for nurses, are actually coming back now.  

"Some people that left to take those agency positions for periods of time are starting to come back which is a very positive thing for us. And some of them also brought back some ideas of different things they've seen but we're very happy they've come back to our ECMC family," Ludlow says.

And for the future, they're counting on the state's program to get more nurses in the pipeline with additional resources for SUNY-based nursing school programs. 

One other thing has been added to the setup for the nurses coming on board at ECMC. That is how to handle stress because it really became an issue obviously with COVID. Ludlow stresses this point "It's being addressed but it's an ongoing issue. Because people have come through two years of this pandemic and many changes have happened."

Catholic Health System, which was hit by a strike at Mercy in South Buffalo last fall over points like the nurse to patient ratios and wages, acknowledged they need more nurses. 

A Kaleida spokesman says there has been progress in recent negotiations on a new contract and they plan more sessions in the coming weeks. Buffalo Business First reports that contracts expire at the end of the month.

Kaleida does not give a direct answer on staffing shortages.

All hospitals were originally required by the state health department to revise their staffing and nurse-patient ratios by this year or face sanctions. But various reports indicate that was pushed back now to 2023.

As for benefits for nurses overall, there is this ECMC perspective from Ludlow. 

"I think across the board we are seeing improvements in working hours, in wages, and the ability for recognizing the extra time that people were putting in. And with that, I think the conditions we have currently are really focused on making sure we have a workforce that has wellness to it, And also they get compensated for all the extra work that they've been doing over the last several years"

In the meantime, there are efforts to grow the nursing workforce here in  New York state with more resources for SUNY nursing schools. 

There is the feeling by some we could see a greater need for staffing with more variations of COVID or other potential pandemics in coming years.