By Hannah Echols
The coronavirus pandemic has tested the health care community, especially nurses working on the frontlines. After two strenuous years, nurses still carry on, even as new variants and surges bring additional challenges.
As nurses continue supporting the health care system and their patients, Rachel Z. Booth Endowed Professor Patricia A. Patrician, PhD, RN, FAAN, in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, is launching a new UAB program dedicated to supporting nurses. The Health Resources and Services Administration has awarded Patrician $2.3 million to implement and study programs, in collaboration with UAB Medicine. The programs look to reduce burnout and promote mental health and well-being within the nursing profession.
The three-year grant is a part of HRSA’s Health Workforce Resiliency Award, a program aiming to establish a culture of wellness and resiliency among the health care workforce during the ongoing pandemic.
“I have lived through the nursing shortages in the 1980s, the hospital cutbacks in the ’90s and many other challenging times in the nursing field,” said Patrician, who spent 26 years in the United States Army Nurse Corps. “I have never encountered a situation like the one currently affecting our bedside nurses. Surge after surge, they are there on the frontline, and even stepping up and filling in gaps, to provide the best care for their patients.”
Patrician’s grant will create the Workforce Engagement for Compassionate Advocacy, Resiliency and Empowerment, or WE CARE, program at UAB Hospital. The program will hire five nursing development specialists who will receive additional training in resilience and psychological first aid, a program developed by Johns Hopkins University, to assist with selected hospital units. A mental health nurse practitioner will provide counseling support services exclusively to nurses. Additional funds will be allocated to improvements and expansion efforts of oasis areas, or respite rooms, within the hospital.
“The past few years have been extremely challenging for all members of the nursing team,” said Terri Poe, DNP, RN, NE-BC (BSN 1986, DNP 2013), Chief Nursing Officer at UAB. “The team emerged as heroes when the pandemic first started and now are truly exhausted from ongoing workforce shortages, pandemic surges and countless hours of providing high-acuity care. We are very excited to be a part of the grant that will support the well-being and mental health for our nurses. The focus of this work will specifically meet the needs of the nurse and ultimately will have an impact by improving high-quality and safe patient care.”
Patrician, who has dedicated much of her research to studying and developing quality work environments for nurses, hopes the WE CARE program will actively support UAB nurses and establish groundwork for resources that can be implemented for nurses around the state to access.
“Nurses are some of the most resilient people in the workforce,” Patrician said. “The health care workforce, especially nurses, has dealt with unimaginable and difficult circumstances. Nurses are the backbone of the health care system and need resources that help them during tumultuous times and support their mental well-being.”
While the pandemic exacerbated nursing shortages and burnout in Alabama, they are not new concerns in the nursing field. Patrician and her colleagues surveyed nurses across the state in 2019 and determined that burnout and poor staffing were issues prior to COVID-19.
Nursing faculty and staff at the School have pivoted resources throughout the pandemic to assist its clinical partners. Faculty and students dedicated thousands of hours working shifts to alleviate workforce shortages at UAB Hospital, as well as planned and operated community vaccine clinics in partnership with UAB Medicine. The school also collaborated with UAB Hospital to provide a pipeline of students to its student nurse aide position, which allows students to gain experience as patient care technicians ahead of graduation, while earning money during school. The ultimate goal is for the students to become familiar with the UAB Health System and return as nurses once they graduate.
“One of our top priorities at the School is not only training and preparing our next generation of nurses but focusing on programs and research that benefit the nursing field as a whole,” said Dean and Fay B. Ireland Endowed Chair in Nursing Doreen C. Harper, PhD, RN, FAAN. “These efforts are critical now more than ever as the pandemic continues challenging our health care system.”