With more than 4.3 million registered nurses in the United States, nursing staff are most often the front-line caregivers in every aspect of the healthcare industry. In 2022, nationwide nursing levels and staffing at health systems are in crisis.
Even before the pandemic, levels of available nurses were severely limited. According to the American Nurses Association, the field was under strain due to retirements outpacing new entrants, increased demand for healthcare from aging and chronic disease populations, taxing work hours, difficult working conditions and inadequate workforce support.
The reality of many health systems and hospitals is that the spaces where patients heal and recover aren’t necessarily designed with the best outcomes for front-line staff in mind. As health systems prepare to invest in construction campaigns with access to new federal capital funds, smart design considerations and construction practices can help health systems attract and retain staff while also impacting the ability of nurses to better care for patients and deliver improved health outcomes.
Steven Frederickson, senior vice president of health and well-being at Rockford Construction, said that his experience working with a multitude of different hospitals and health systems over 30 years can help hospital facilities teams consider designs and best practices that can benefit both patients and front-line care providers.
“When care spaces are created in a way that is mindful of the nursing staff, we have found that there is better attraction and retention levels and improved patient outcomes,” Frederickson said. “They have more engagement in what they do and a better connection with their patients. The health and well-being environment is a physical space, but good design and thoughtful construction can help create a culture where employees and patients can thrive together.”
Relatively inexpensive techniques can be implemented to optimize outcomes by engaging with those most knowledgeable about the delivery model, including early design reviews, construction phasing strategy and surveys before and throughout construction.
Taking care of front-line nursing staff and working to increase attraction, retention and engagement will be important for health systems over the next decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be nearly 200,000 average nursing openings per year through 2030. At the same time, a national survey of nurses indicated that more than 20% of current RNs planned to retire from nursing over the next five years.
Health systems will need to find ways to staff up. More nurses than ever will be needed as the U.S. population continues to age, with the Census Bureau reporting that by 2030, the number of U.S. residents aged 65 and over will likely surpass 82 million. As the population ages, there will be a need for more geriatric care, as well as care for people with chronic illnesses.
While the needs of every health system will be different based on the communities where they are located, Frederickson said it is critical to create spaces where staff feel taken care of and respected, and where they are allowed to do what they intrinsically want to do, which is provide care for patients.
“If we allow the people who are directly involved in the care model to affect the design so it works for them as well as patients, it’s a win-win,” Frederickson said. “No one knows better how to serve the patients on a day-to-day basis than nursing team members. Our goal is to help health systems create spaces where doctors and nurses can deliver health plans together, and where front-line healthcare staff are healthy, engaged and empowered to do their best to heal patients.”