Innovation for a Better Tomorrow

Innovation in nursing

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Mission Health Communities is a skilled nursing and senior living organization, caring for over 2500 patients and residents, and employing 3500 staff, nationwide.  Its home office is proudly located in the Tampa Bay area since 2006.

Karen McDonald, Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer for Mission Health, is persistent in her ongoing pursuit to solidify how the company fulfills its mission, all the while creating value for its stakeholders.  Ms. McDonald’s signature saying, “what we do and how we do it” is the inspiration and motivation of each day, and the Mission Health CARES values (Character, Attitude, Respect, Excellent, Service) is what supports and propels the Mission Experience forward in new and exciting ways.   The workplace environment is one of collaboration to be sure consistent senior care and service initiatives make a positive impact in every interaction with those Mission Health serves.

As the nurse leader of Mission Health, besides navigating the everchanging regulations and pandemic guidance over these past many months, Karen, put a great deal of time and attention into employee engagement – knowing how important it is to support nurses who positively shape the experience of patients, residents, and family members.

With the emergence of the novel coronavirus, Mission Health was able to put its integrated employee engagement platform for nurses to the test.  The goal: to increase the reach to nurses and their teams in meaningful and effective ways to support strong outcomes for residents and family members during one of the most difficult times in healthcare. Under Karen’s watchful eye, Mission Health used what it had to work with . . . and reallocated budgets, time, priorities, and resources to engage the entire organization – with the plan – to solidify commitment and dedication for all involved.

Although the Mission employee base can be found throughout seven different states, and operate in both urban and rural markets, a common denominator was quickly determined. Like most, nursing employees were scared, and looking for answers in both their work and home life.

Personal and family safety, financial stability, and time management were the most extreme stressors.   With school closings, grocery shelves empty, and PPE in short supply, what could be done to design a safety net that could address specific employee needs, while being broad enough to engage an entire workforce.

The first step to building that safety net was to be sure that nursing teams had access to grocery staples, at a time when stores had emptied out, employees were working long hours, and were unable to easily get to the grocery store.  The nurses and nursing assistants shared that because of the need for 12-hour shifts, their access to shop was limited as the stores were closed in the morning and were empty by night.

With Catrisse Alvord, Director of Food Hospitality and Nutrition, in the lead, the Tampa team jumped on the feedback and developed a program whereby employees had access to discounted staples through Mission Health’s national food vendor.  Because of this, a more consistent staffing pattern became evident, along with happier employees.  Milk, cheese, deli ham, turkey, eggs, bread, salad mix, and yes, toilet paper, rounded out the grocery list that was available.  The first four months of the program delivered over 4,500 orders for staff and their families.

As the company was rolling out the curbside grocery program, it was also imperative to Karen that the team address staff who were screened out with possible COVID symptoms.   At first, the governmental relief funding had not yet been determined, and the company was tasked to pivot quickly to provide financial support to for the workforce. Utilizing current benefit platforms, Mission Health was able to promote PTO Your Way which included buying back time and flexing PTO hours. This autonomous approach brought less stress and anxiety, as nursing staff were able to manage their own time and money, while state and federal programs got up and running. The company also pushed forward and funded the Mission Health CARES Emergency Relief Program for unexpected financial emergencies.

To recognize that skilled nursing staff were about to undertake a challenge unlike what they had experienced before, it was important to compensate them at a level reflective of the risk.  A new standardized of practice was born – as exposure increased, a tiered initiative was rolled out to the affected centers to alleviate unnecessary anxiety.  This helped keep staff in place, so that residents did not experience an interruption in service.

Another key piece that Karen suggested would provide outside-the-box support was a virtual package of peer group resources. This guidance took the form of a Mission Health Family Facebook group and a live video series’ designed to help nurses and their team’s to combat stress and anxiety. The Take a Break series for staff and families highlights new resources for managing stress each month.  By keeping topics fresh and relevant to the ever-changing needs of 2020 and beyond, this series tackles topics from how to talk to your kids about the virus, to taking a virtual vacation, and everything in between.

Spending time on ensuring social media platforms were consistent and uplifting, created a space where employees knew they would find not only helpful information and opportunities, but also a spotlight on their care and dedication.  It was important for employees to be able to see themselves and their work on social media with a sense of pride, and that pride translated to employee loyalty. In just a few short months, Mission added over 300 new followers to the company Facebook page, and the Mission Health Family group has rapidly grown to include over 150 members – and new people join each week to keep in touch with happenings at Mission.

Speaking of pride, even during a pandemic, Karen was instrumental in growing Mission Health’s workforce utilizing current programs in place, as well as governmental waivers to bolster staffing patterns should it be needed.  Something surprising – most people were looking for – longer term employment and wanted to start new career paths. This was reflected in our recruitment and retention efforts. Through the summer, Mission Health hired over 450 new employees, with a retention rate of 67% — a feat at any time in the skilled nursing profession! As new certified nursing assistants joined Mission Health, Karen made a point to personally congratulate these newest members in newsletters, on social media posts, and during weekly ZOOM calls.

As a companion to the connection and engagement allowed by ZOOM communication, Karen was clear that a new form of communication was needed to reach all staff.  One of the biggest opportunities frequently mentioned by employees was that, sometimes, communications simply do not reach everyone, or can feel incomplete as it is disseminated across departments, shifts, or even floors or units.

With limited time and budget, the team was able to repurpose a “conference application” to use as a folio to house the many programs listed here.  The employee resource app was born, where links and documents live in their most up-to-date versions, keeping staff engaged through autonomous learning. Their ability to direct themselves supported a more actively invested workforce.

A few samples of what can be found inside of the HR APP – from employee handbook info, to emotional support through tele-doc services, and up to the minute health and safety tips can be found on the mobile phone in the back pocket of most staff. Time and attendance, scheduling, and PTO requests through the APP added efficiency and autonomy during this hectic time. These features and fun announcements, contests, and the like are pushed to the App on a regular basis.

Navigating employee engagement during a pandemic can seem near impossible. However, when you have a visionary leader –  build from the basics of strong values, listen to the input of your staff, and always keep the ultimate patient and family experience in mind, it becomes much clearer as how to create meaningful programs that drive quality outcomes.

Particularly in skilled nursing, where it can feel like innovation sometimes slips to the backburner, the ability to pivot quickly and support new initiatives is one of the biggest differentiators a company can have. Karen McDonald’s commitment to making sure that Mission Health is always at the forefront of the profession, while never losing sight of the experience of those served, sets Mission apart from the rest.

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