Geneva hospital launches new pilot program to address nursing shortages

In an attempt to combat existing workforce shortages, Northwestern Delnor Hospital in Geneva is piloting a program that will bring back a familiar staffer: a licensed practical nurse.

If successful, the pilot program could be expanded, hospital officials said. The pilot program is the health system's way of bringing back licensed practical nurses — at one point a staple used in hospital settings as a way to provide support for licensed registered nurses, who traditionally receive more training than an LPN — to help offset a growing need for labor.

Gina Reid Tinio, chief nurse executive at Delnor, said the hospital has seen a higher job vacancy in patient care support roles because nursing students, who often fill those jobs, eventually take jobs as registered nurses.

“We needed to look for a more permanent solution to fill that important work. We're exploring if reintroducing the LPN to the inpatient care team can help us fill those gaps so that we can continue to optimally meet our patients' needs,” she said.

The licensed practical nurses will work under the watchful guidance of a registered nurse.

Nurse Justin Gray, clinical unit director at Delnor, said the pilot program is looking for new ways to support current team members. He said LPNs can support the registered nursing staff by responding to call lights and helping patients with tasks that patient care technicians aren't able to do.

“It is exciting to open our labor pool to LPNs and leverage their skill set to assist our RNs in providing an exceptional patient experience,” he said. “This support is especially helpful when an RN may be in the middle of something they can't immediately step away from. LPNs have the additional skill set of spending quality time with patients and have developed a talent for caring conversations at the bedside. Our teams are equipped to do that now, but the addition of more support staff can take our compassionate care to the next level.”

According to the Illinois Nursing Workforce Center, LPNs more frequently practice at nursing and residential care facilities. In Illinois, as of 2021, 51% of LPNs practice in long-term care, rehabilitation or assisted living, 16% are in outpatient settings, 10% are in home health and 3% are school nurses.

Data collected by the workforce center that surveyed LPNs from Nov. 8, 2020, to Feb. 1, 2021, shows an average salary range for Illinois nurses is $25,000 to $55,000. According to the survey findings, 48% of LPNs received a community college education.

LPNs complete a one-year training program and must pass the National Licensure Examination. They are skilled at day-to-day care for patients, including recording vitals, monitoring patient status, changing wound dressings, giving most medications, helping to feed, bathe and dress, and making patients more comfortable.

Reid Tinio said that acute care hospitals haven't used LPNs for a while, but the hope is that they can not only provide support, but also help with nursing workflow.

“This pilot project is one facet of our goal to be innovative in redesigning inpatient care delivery to provide the highest service, safety and quality for our patients,” she said.

A job description from Northwestern Medicine asks that applicants are experienced in clinic and nursing care to treat and evaluate patients while maintaining standards of practical nursing practice mandated by the American Nursing Association.

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