Pipeline Progress – Western Mass. Nursing Collaborative Marks 10 Years, Looks Ahead

Ten years after its inception, the Western Mass. Nursing Collaborative has achieved its initial goals of bringing together partners from the fields of education, healthcare, and employment, to make sure there are enough well-trained nurses in the pipeline to meet the region’s needs.

But 10 years was only a beginning, Peta-Gaye Porter said.

“We definitely have made some very notable progress,” said Porter, manager of Healthcare Workforce Initiatives for the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County (REB), which established the collaborative in 2006 as part of its Healthcare Workforce Partnership program. “We’ve documented it in a number of projects that have taken place with the collaborative as a whole, but also with schools and the healthcare organizations working on grant projects side by side, one organization working with another.”

REB President and CEO David Cruise agreed, noting that the collaborative works alongside the other arm of the Healthcare Workforce Partnership, the Allied Health Committee, which reaches into myriad health careers beyond nursing.

“One of the critical things we’re trying to do here,” he said, “is build a coordinated pipeline, particularly at the high-school level, and begin to identify young people who want to pursue a career in healthcare — not necessarily just nursing, but the broader landscape.”

The collaborative — co-chaired by Patricia Samra, director of Clinical Workforce Planning for Baystate Health, and Karen Rousseau, dean of Nursing at American International College — was formed in 2006 and initially known as Partners Invested in Nursing. It focused on workforce initiatives and marked the first time major healthcare providers and educators in the region convened to address worker-pipeline needs.

Today, about two dozen colleges, employer groups, hospitals, and health systems participate in the collaborative. Its priorities include increasing the diversity of the nursing workforce, ensuring that nurses have the competencies and full scope of practice needed to meet the changing health needs of the community, increasing the number of nurses with a bachelor’s degree or higher, increasing the supply and diversity of nursing faculty in area programs and the retention of new nurses in all care settings, and sustaining the partnership.

“Over the past 10 years,” Porter told HCN, “the collaborative has celebrated some major accomplishments, including creating a curriculum — since disseminated statewide — to educate nurses from across care settings to supplement efforts to reduce avoidable readmissions and achieve patient-centered goals.”

Looking Ahead

To refresh its vision, the collaborative recently set a series of six strategic goals for the next five years to continue making meaningful connections.

The first, simply put, is to increase the diversity of the nursing workforce in Western Mass. — not only to attract individuals from more diverse ethnicities and backgrounds to the profession, better reflecting the public they serve, but to better prepare those students for the rigors of the nursing profession.

The second step on the ladder is to ensure that nurses have the competencies and full scope of practice to meet the health needs of the community, by promoting increased hiring in high-demand settings and integrating high-priority competencies into educational programs. This is one area in which both colleges and health systems can collaborate on specific programs aimed at meeting current and future personnel needs.

The third step is to increase the number of nurses with advanced degrees by promoting accelerated educational pathways and increasing knowledge about financing options for that additional education.

Cruise said statewide nursing organizations have set a goal to have 66{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of nurses with advanced degrees (BSN or higher) by 2020, but the collaborative is aiming for 80{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} in Western Mass. Doing so will only improve care at a time when health systems are incentivized to reduce hospital readmissions.

“I think the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act continues to change the face of delivery of healthcare issues, where the focus is really on developing a community culture of health and dealing with the issue of aging in space,” he told HCN. “So, how do we continue to extend the hospital out into the community so we cut down on the number of individuals who come to an acute-care facility?”

The fourth goal deals with training the trainers — specifically, to increase nursing faculty in Western Mass. by motivating nurses to explore faculty roles, utilize innovative compensation strategies, and continue efforts to promote recruitment and retention. This need is expected to become more critical over the next decade with expected retirements looming.

The fifth strategy is to increase retention in all healthcare settings, both through career-coaching and preceptorship programs, and by increasing access to professional-advancement opportunities.

Finally, the sixth goal is simply to maintain the partnership — by bringing more cross-continuum partners on board, leveraging partner co-investment and funding, and aligning with national and statewide nursing organizations.

This might be among the most critical goals of the five-year plan, Porter said, pointing to successful coalition initiatives over the past decade that would not have happened in isolation.

Cruise agreed that the sustainability of the partnership five or 10 years from now — and beyond — is just as important as the work it is doing now. “It has allowed organizations to increase collaboration among themselves, and created relationships and opportunities to move students along new pathways.”

Making Time

Cruise said it isn’t easy to bring representatives from all these organizations for several hours each month because they’re all busy people with plenty on their plate. But they come because they feel the main goal — to build a pipeline of nurses for the future — is important, and the Western Mass. Nursing Collaborative gives them a forum to make it happen.

“There’s a multiplier effect, a knowledge transfer,” he said, “as they bring their work back to their institutions on a broader level than just people sitting at a table.”