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GAO Report: Menial Tasks Make It Tough To Recruit and Retain Nurses

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Sunday, October 26, 2008 11:45 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Nurses and Assistants, Health Care System, Hospitals, Medical Care, GAO Report


IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockphoto / medical solutions / author: gmutlu

A recently released GAO report on nursing at the Veterans Administration (VA) sheds some light on why it is so difficult for hospitals to recruit and retain registered nurses (RNs).

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is known as the “investigative arm of congress” and the “congressional watchdog.”

RNs are the biggest group of health care providers employed by the VA’s health care system.

The report found, spirit among VA nurses often suffers because they are left to perform menial tasks that aren’t a core part of their job, such as changing bed linens, answering the phone and more.

A survey of VA nurse executives found a shortage of other staff around all the time to do tasks such as housekeeping. In turn it drives down the morale of nurses, making retention more difficult.

Also a core issue is the balance between work and life. In 2004, Congress authorized the VA to offer nurses “alternate work schedules” – which consists of a 36-hour work week (made up of 12-hour shifts), paid at a 40-hour rate. Or the opportunity to work full-time for nine months and then take three off, for 75 percent year-round pay. But, these options are not readily available to nurses.

“Flexible” work schedules – eight 10-hour shifts in a 2-week period – are also very limited.

“Half of all nurse executives reported that the shortage of alternate and flexible schedules at their [VA medical center] was one of the prime reasons for difficulty competing with local hospitals in recruiting and retaining RNs,” the GAO report found.

The VA agreed with report findings. They plan to develop a detailed action plan that will include a time table for building, testing and implementing the new nurse staffing system that will more accurately account for patients needs and nurse responsibilities. They also plan to assemble a task force to address the flexibility issue. #

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