New Lifelines in Health Care: Hospitals, Agencies get Innovative to Overcome Obstacles

Health care can’t be dynamic without creative solutions. No one knows the better than Midlands organizations.

New and innovative ways of delivering care are Kara Tomlinson’s bread and butter – in fact, they’re present in her title as Nebraska Medicine’s executive director of system care delivery and innovation.

“We are shifting our focus towards a health care landscape that is forward-thinking, patient-centered and resilient by creating an Innovation Design Unit (IDU),” Tomlinson said.

Designed to “reimagine health care from the ground up,” Tomlinson described IDU as an active, inpatient care environment to design, test and scale new models of care, innovative technology and facility design.

When asked about innovative solutions in the works over the past year, Tomlinson referred to virtual nursing to address the projected shortfall of 5,435 nurses by 2025 (via Nebraska for Nursing stats).

“Virtual nursing provides additional opportunities for nurses who are considering leaving the bedside, retiring, or those considering leaving the profession by employing them as virtual resources,” she said.

Several patients are monitored remotely, while support and expertise are also provided to the bedside nurse.

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“Anticipated outcomes include higher nurse job satisfaction and improved morale, reduced fatigue, improved workforce engagement and improved patient satisfaction,” Tomlinson noted.

She referenced major related investments in tech and hardware; a platform integrated with high-def cameras and audio for two-way communication and Zoom capabilities that enable viewing of detailed info. Advanced features include predictive modeling to anticipate potential risks.

Nebraska Medicine Government Affairs Director Tiffany Seibert Joekel looks at health care workforce challenges through the lens of state and federal legislation.

“Enhanced access to care through telehealth during the pandemic has substantially changed the way care is delivered, and legislation to increase access to telehealth care will continue to change the health care system,” she noted. “There will be a continued focus on reimbursement policies to ensure financial stability for health care providers, as well as a focus on the value and quality of care.”

Caring for Complete Needs

Physicians, nurses and clinicians have also been stretched due to the “triple threat” of influenza, RSV and COVID, according to CHI Health President Dr. Cary Ward.

“We are ensuring we have resources and education for our providers to help them get back to the joy of practicing medicine,” he stated.

Ward also said CHI Health is expanding telehealth services for several areas of specialization.

“When done correctly, it is a big patient-satisfier with no reduction in the quality of care,” he added.

Resources are being added to its transfer center to ease the process, while Ward noted the organization is actively exploring cost-reduction measures; for instance, performing services as appropriate at ambulatory surgery centers.

Building upon its time-tested AI programs, Ward described how a new “patient no-show model” analyzes patients’ appointment histories.

“If we can predict that, we can contact them ahead of time to maybe identify a barrier of why they might not show up to an appointment,” he said.

Last but certainly not least, Ward referenced how telehealth is reducing the stigma around mental health by allowing patients to receive care from the comfort of home or anywhere they use a device.

Additionally, CHI is actively placing mental health experts in primary care clinics as an integrated approach to reduce emergency room visits and expand collaboration.

Joel Tremblay, president of Medical Solutions, said the staffing company is at the intersection of health care and staffing/talent needs.

“The pandemic, paired with the increasing health care staffing shortage, has led many health care systems to seek more holistic staffing solutions, rather than quick-fix options,” Tremblay said.

In response to the shift, his firm has evolved to provide “total talent management solutions” in addition to travel staffing services – a feat accomplished by combining services with strategy and technology, offering organizations what he called “more channels of talent, better insights and more control.”

He also noted how artificial intelligence-powered algorithms have “significantly improved” both the accuracy and speed of diagnoses, which helps providers to care more precisely and efficiently.

Tremblay, too, referred to virtual nursing as a significant innovation over the past year.

“These platforms not only alleviate the burden on in-person health care services, but also facilitate continuous care and support for patients, especially those managing chronic conditions,” he said.

A critical lesson of the pandemic, Tremblay said health care is also prioritizing mental health services. He referred to investments in resources such as counseling services, peer support networks, and stress management programming.

Taking Action

Methodist Health System is leveraging a multifaceted approach to recruiting in the face of evolving needs and industry trends, according to Vice President of Human Resources Paula Pittman.

“We are constantly assessing the effectiveness of our staffing strategies and adjust our practices and offerings to align with changing health care needs,“ Pittman said. “We understand that what may have worked well just a few years ago may no longer be effective.” 

She noted how employee referrals are the health system’s No. 1 source of new hires.

As the health care landscape has evolved, Nebraska Medicine Vice President of People Operations Katie Beach said Nebraska Medicine has expanded relationships with university partners and leveraged new job-seeker platforms and outreach to former employees.

“In addition, we offer a variety of sponsorship programs to support staff and external career changers to help them gain the necessary education and credentials to pursue a career in health care,” Beach said.

She also referenced partnerships with high school academies and community alliances to engage with young adolescents as well as career changers.

“These partnerships are also critical to breaking down perceived barriers of access to health care career opportunities,” Beach said.

Retention efforts span leadership development and work culture, to professional growth and competitive rewards.

Ward said its Midwest Internal Travel Program and regional float pool have converted many travel nurses and staff into CHI Health employees, with staff still traveling only within their footprint. And, as of January 2024, nurses in its Virtual Integrated Nursing program with charge management experience can remote video into CHI Health Lakeside, CHI Health CUMC-Bergan Mercy and CHI Health Immanuel to assist bedside nurses with admissions, day-to-day operations, rounding and discharge.

As the cost of college/medical training feeds into staff shortages, CHI Health offers reimbursement programs and partners with nursing schools on scholarships in exchange for work commitment. Ward noted how its partnership with the Latino Center of the Midlands Siembra Salud program exposes Latino and Hispanic students to shadowing and internship opportunities in the field.

“Students who are interested in taking the next step can apply for the CNA career ladder program,” Ward said. “Through this program, CHI Health will pay for tuition and fees, including textbooks, scrubs and other expenses, as well as state certification fees in exchange for a minimum of one year of employment.”

Medical Solutions is investing in technology like ciro, a platform with customized tools such as ciro clinician – supporting professionals’ ability to keep up with day-to-day assignments. In 2024 and beyond, Tremblay said it will use generative AI in its technology to improve efficiencies and create smoother processes.

He furthermore indicated onboarding processes assist with hiccups that clinicians may encounter, while also noting how recruiters engage with clinicians to offer guidance, support, and ensure a positive experience.

“Our clinical operations department … provide invaluable advice and expertise on recruitment, retention and pipeline development strategies,” he added.

He emphasized the staffing shortage was present before COVID-19 reached its peak, conditions presented during it increased burnout, early retirements, and exits to other industries.

“The pandemic intensified a shortage that already existed, but other factors contribute to the availability of health care workers; for example, the time it takes to educate and train professionals such as nurses, physicians and specialists affects availability,” Tremblay said.