Verde Valley Medical Center fights nursing shortage

Verde Valley Medical Center is taking pro-active measures to stay ahead of a nationwide nursing shortage and the results are promising. "The national average for nursing staff vacancies is approximately 20%," said VVMC Vice President of Patient Care, Judith Emmons. "Our vacancy rate at VVMC is six percent--and we intend to continue reducing that percentage."

VVMC has instituted a three-part program to aid in securing the most qualified nursing personnel: recruitment, review and retention.

In cooperation with its affiliate facility in Flagstaff, VVMC has a team of recruiters who attend job fairs, place ads in professional journals nationwide, and answer queries from job seekers. The recruiters ensure potential applicants are aware of all that VVMC has to offer.

"And we have a lot to offer!," said Mrs. Emmons. "VVMC performed an in-depth nationwide analysis of nursing wages. Our data showed that we needed to adjust wages to recruit and retain quality staff. On July 1, all registered nurses will receive an across-the-board salary increase. In addition, we have instituted a sign-on bonus of $2,000. We want the best nurses to come to our facility and join our team."

Nurses from urban areas who visit the Verde Valley are sometimes surprised at the level of technological sophistication offered at VVMC. An interventional cardiology program, including angioplasty and stent insertion, began in March. VVMC's Sleep Center, aiding in the diagnosis of sleep-related health problems, is state-of-the-art. And, most recently, VVMC purchased a medical transport helicopter to be stationed on-site.

Patients at VVMC enjoy a nurse-to-patient ratio significantly more favorable than in many urban facilities. In the VVMC Critical Care/Intensive Care Unit, one nurse will care for one to three patients, depending on patient acuity. In the medical/surgical units, ratios range from one nurse to four patients (in Transcare), to one nurse (with aides) for seven patients.

By comparison, many urban facilities have ratios of up to one nurse for 10 patients.

As part of its retention program, VVMC offers a comprehensive continuing education program. Nurses and other VVMC personnel can apply for up to $4,000 annually in tuition reimbursement. "A well-educated staff is good for the patients," said Mrs. Emmons. "And, good for our community!"

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