The COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of shortages across the nation in supply chains and in the workforce, with the healthcare field being hit the hardest, especially the nurses.
Covenant health efforts
Covenant lost two groups of nurses during the pandemic, Walter Cathey, regional CEO of Covenant Health System, said.
One group was comprised of nurses on the cusp of retiring, choosing to retire early because of the pandemic, while the other included younger nurses who departed due to the mental health strain the pandemic caused health workers to go through.
Cathey said he is trying to find a strategic way to rebuild the nursing staff back up.
“I’m taking a lot of our foundation dollars and investing it back into caregivers to elevate their career paths,” he said. “So really, how can I get a certified nursing assistant to an RN within six years and build back in turn, because Lubbock is a great place to live, but it’s not an easy place to recruit to.”
Covenant has also opted into virtual nursing, Cathey said, to alleviate some of the work nurses have to do.
All the documentation needed for health care records and mandated by hospital regulators can be done by a nurse who is able to watch multiple beds remotely, while the nurses in the hospital can focus more on the patients.
When it comes to filling the voids in the rural market areas, Cathey said Covenant has shifted from using registered nurses to licensed practical nurses.
Covenant School of Nursing said it is not experiencing a shortage of people applying — the problem is the number of students they can teach every cycle.
“That’s not a Lubbock problem; that’s a national problem,” said Terri Morris, a recruiter for Covenant School of Nursing. “So, the applicants are there. We just don’t have enough places to put them in.”
Morris said this forces the field to be more competitive when applying to nursing programs.
It also means the school can be more selective when choosing its students.
“Nursing is much bigger than just GPA. It’s about the culture, and it’s about compassion,” she said.
What is unique about Covenant’s program is it is the last diploma nursing program in Texas while also offering the most clinical hours in the state, Morris said.
It also allows Covenant a pipeline of talent with around 75% of the graduating class staying at Covenant, she said, with the last class having an 82% retention rate.
Currently, Morris said the school offers two programs.
The traditional RN program takes 18 months to complete, and the LVN to RN track is just short of eight months. More information about the programs can be found at www.providence.org/locations/covenant-health/school-of-nursing.
TTUHSC School of Nursing innovation
Texas Tech’s Health Sciences Center School of Nursing has three different types of nursing degrees: Traditional Bachelor of Nursing, Veteran to BSN and Second Degree Accelerated BSN.
Most of the traditional BSN students come from Texas Tech pre-nursing majors, said Michael Evans, dean of the School of Nursing, but the other two are comprised of graduate students or people who are already working in the healthcare field.
COVID-19 did cause students in the VBSN and second-degree programs to take a leave of absence, but it also saw an increase of people willing to go into the field, causing both programs to double in applications.
“People saw a lot of the press, a lot of newspaper articles, and they saw things about nurses as heroes on the front lines of COVID, and they certainly were. And people thought, ‘that’s what I want to do with my life,’” Evans said.
With the growing disparity between the big cities in Texas and the rural areas, Evans said the school is figuring out ways to help serve those communities.
Many of the students come from rural communities and are being trained in bigger hospitals, he said, but the school allows students to be trained in smaller rural hospitals through an immersion program.
“We want them to be able to go there in what we call an immersion and spend more hours understanding if they really are into it, and we have that immersion opportunity in rural facilities,” he said.
With rural communities offering more personal care and urban hospitals seeing critical cases, Evans said this allows students to determine which environment is best suited for them.
TTUHSC also offers graduate-level programs for nurses such as midwifery, family nurse practitioner, mental health nurse and doctorate of nurse practice.
With the pandemic slowing, Evans says he has a positive outlook for the future of the nursing field.
“I think things are very bright — extremely bright,” he said. “As long as we’re able to keep the programs that we have as healthy as they are and as attractive as they are to students.”