By Amy Crowley

Pat Davis-Hagens, Market President & CEO – Central Market and Chief Nursing Officer of Mercy Health – Cincinnati is being celebrated as a finalist for the 2018 Richard M. Smith MD Leadership in Quality Improvement Award.

Each year, The Health Collaborative recognizes the healthcare heroes in our community at the Inspire | Healthcare Gala and Awards Celebration. This year’s sold-out event is being held on November 8 at The Center downtown. Award categories include Diversity and Inclusion, Gen-H (population health), Informatics Solutions (health information technology), and Leadership in Quality Improvement.

Named for a tireless proponent of patient safety and now in its 15th year, the Richard M. Smith MD Leadership in Quality Improvement Award is given to the individual or team that has identified an opportunity to improve patient care and safety, and applied the PDSA principles of quality improvement to develop a successful intervention.

Mercy Health was faced with a particularly difficult challenge, not unlike most hospitals nationwide are currently experiencing: recruiting and retaining top-quality nurses. However, as experienced nurses began retiring at a rapid rate and not enough nursing graduates were available to take over, Pat Davis-Hagens, Market President & CEO – Central Market and Chief Nursing Officer of Mercy Health – Cincinnati, wasn’t about to sit on the sidelines to watch the struggle.

The challenge she faced was immense. In 2015, Mercy Health experienced a critical shortage of nearly 600 nurses and a staggeringly high turnover rate of recent grads within their first year of employment. However, through the efforts of Davis-Hagens and a team she led to change this, Mercy Health’s nursing recruitment and retention strategy was radically improved.

Accelerating Career Paths
Typically, nurses must wait one to three years out of school before they can choose a specialty area. Mercy Health set out to change this through a year-long paid nurse residency program open to new graduates and nurses with less than six months of acute care experience. Featuring four tracks — medical surgical/telemetry/orthopedics, critical care, emergency department and operating room — the new program allows nurses to enter specialty areas immediately after graduation.

“It was important to us to offer graduating nurses the chance to continue their education and transition into the workforce quickly,” said Davis-Hagens. “We’re so proud this program because it allows them to fast track their careers by growing their skills and confidence quickly.”

Through the program, a group (typically three to four) of newly graduated nurses are partnered with an experienced nurse mentor to help graduates transition quickly into the acute care setting. The development of this support system is crucial to inexperienced graduates who now meet with their mentors monthly to discuss professional development, organizational and interpersonal skills and take part in self-reflection exercises.

“We’ve now set the standard for what is expected and what it means to be a high-quality Mercy Health nurse which directly affects how our patients are cared for.”

Pat Davis-Hagens

Market President & CEO - Central Market and Chief Nursing Officer , Mercy Health - Cincinnati

Results Worth the Efforts
Through simulation training and a focus on closed-loop communication, quality nursing care and patient safety, the program has produced phenomenal results to date.

There are now 545 nurses going through the residency program. Prior to the launch, Mercy Health’s turnover rate of new grads was 37 percent within their first year, which was in line with the national average of 38 percent. Today, the turnover rate stands at just nine percent annually and its nurse vacancy rate is at an at all-time low of 3.4 percent, a true testament to the program’s effectiveness in recruiting and transitioning nurses effectively.

The program also saves Mercy Health a considerable amount of money each year. Even with the investment in the year-long program, since launch, Mercy Health has realized a cost savings of $9 million. Savings includes a decrease in agency nurse spend and orientation and training costs, as well as an increase in workforce stability and consistent, high-quality patient care. In addition, highly engaged nurses stay on the job, driving down labor costs.

Numbers That Go Way Beyond Retention
By focusing on continuing education and standardizing nursing orientation, the Mercy Health patient experience has also benefited positively from the program. “Providing a standardized evidence-based competency orientation to all of our newly hired nurses allows us to improve patient outcomes,” said Davis-Hagens. “We’ve now set the standard for what is expected and what it means to be a high-quality Mercy Health nurse which directly affects how our patients are cared for.”

As a result, regional Mercy Health nurses had a direct impact on the patient experience resulting in:

  • 14 percent improvement in overall satisfaction
  • 50 percent improvement in hospital C-diff infections
  • 78 percent improvement in total joint surgical site infections
  • 55 percent improvement in ICU CAUTI rate
  • 100 percent improvement in ICU CLABSI rate
  • 86 percent improvement in colon surgical site infections

Under Davis-Hagens’s leadership, nursing has outperformed the national average for engagement in relationship to nurse autonomy, leadership access, inter-professional relationships, teamwork and collaboration and professional development. Mercy Health’s program has become a model for how to drive strong recruitment, retention and engagement.

The Health Collaborative is proud to honor Pat Davis-Hagens as a nominee for the 2018 Richard M. Smith MD Leadership in Quality Improvement Award, for playing a key role in improving nurse recruitment and retention, driving strong nurse engagement, and making a positive impact on the quality of patient care in our region.