Rural hospitals fighting to keep, attract nurses

Updated: Apr. 17, 2021 at 3:47 PM CDT
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POCAHONTAS, Ark. (KAIT) - We told you recently how White River Medical Center is balancing the high demand for health care workers, especially nurses.

St. Bernards Five Rivers Medical Center is dealing with a similar struggle.

Chief Nursing Officer Sydney Stevens says they’ve consistently had around 10 to 12 openings for nurses at the hospital throughout the pandemic.

“The nursing shortage in rural areas has increased exponentially,” Stevens said. “Nationwide, there’s about a 9.9 percent [vacancy rate], and that’s for small hospitals as well as large ones. For us, it’s about 17 or 18 percent.”

With Five Rivers usually employing around 75 nurses, Stevens says with a nationwide shortage of nurses, rural hospitals are being impacted the most.

Stevens, who has been the Chief Nursing Officer for three years, says she’s seen a lot of turnover with nurses since she’s taken office, with the pandemic as a big reason why.

“As a rural facility, we’re kind of out of sight, out of mind,” Stevens said. “We can’t always compete with the pay and benefits and the housing market even that they can have in a larger metro area.”

Even with the struggle, Stevens says they’ve managed to get creative and push through even with the need still there.

She says the facility has been able to help even workloads for nurses, adding that the nursing program at Black River Technical College has also been a huge help for the center.

When it comes to retaining nurses, she says St. Bernards has done a great job with providing incentives, helping attract and keep nurses in rural areas.

“We have really worked to revamp the way that we deliver care here,” Stevens said. “We’ve also been able to partner with St. Bernards to offer some unique experiences that are new to the area and just to the state in general... we try to focus on our strengths.”

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