Recruiting, retaining nurses in Huntsville

Local nurse shares experience and explains why so many health care workers said goodbye
Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 7:23 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 2, 2022 at 7:29 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The COVID-19 pandemic forced many critical workers to walk away from their careers for various reasons. That rings true for healthcare workers, including nurses.

Huntsville Hospital leaders say recruitment efforts to build back their workforce have worked so far. They were able to hire 86 of the highly sought after May nursing grads, and look forward to more new hires from the upcoming August classes.

The bottom line is, the pandemic changed the way hospitals function, recruit, and retain employees. One major topic that can’t be overlooked is pay. According to hospital leaders, nurses received a pay increase in June 2021. In January 2020, leaders increased the differential pay for nurses working nights and weekends. In February, hospital leaders started a merit-based increase for nurses.

Leaders say they are also investing in a variety of community outreach programs, and believe those will pay off in the long-run.

Staffing is not a quick fix and hospital leaders admit, they have a long way to go. But for now, they are focused on community engagement and training.

Some family practice clinics are also struggling to find more nurses. Donna Williams, registered nurse at a family practice clinic in Huntsville, said her clinic has not been impacted significantly, but it is a challenge to find backup when needed.

“When we have need for a relief nurse or PRN, it’s hard to find someone but there hasn’t been a horrible impact at our particular clinic,” Williams said.

Interestingly, Williams retired from nursing before the pandemic began. However, when she saw the demand for nurses in 2020, she ran back in to help, and has been working full time since.

“When COVID hit, I heard that they needed nurses and I thought that I could at least help give shots or do something along those lines,” Williams said. “So I reactivated my license and went to help at this particular clinic. I fell in love with the staff and ended up as their office nurse.”

Williams said the pandemic forced health care workers to walk away for various reasons, such as risk versus reward and liability concerns. She also believes the nurse-to-patient ratio during the pandemic and even now, is unrealistic. She said many nurses continue to take on more responsibilities without additional benefits.

“I think the answer is to treat nurses like the professionals they are,” Williams said. “Pay them like the professionals that they are, and then appeal to the actual heart of nursing, which is caring for other people that need you.”

Williams believes hospital leaders recognize these problems and are taking action. She said nursing is not an easy career but that it’s incredibly fulfilling.

“It has been a wonderful career,” she said. “It has opened doors that I never imagined in not only medical fields but other fields. It’s a great bit of knowledge to have in life. You learn people from the inside out, the whole person.”

Williams started her career in health care when she was 15-years-old. Her mother was an ambulance worker at the time, and she became her right-hand woman until getting her EMT license a year later.

“We lived in a rural area, so you could get your EMT license at 16,” she said. “So I went and got my license and worked calls when I wasn’t in school all the way through high school. Then my senior year, my mom started nursing school and I said, ‘How about I go with you?’”

Williams and her mother powered through nursing school together and began their lifelong careers.

“You get to learn how to advocate for others and how to take care of others,” Williams said. “So I love that part, and I feel like that should be something that those who are led to do, should have an opportunity to do…in an environment that is as safe as possible but also that is not overwhelming…that you feel valued, and you feel like you are making a difference.”

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