Registered nurses at Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, Tennessee recently received approximately a 10% pay increase. Not only was this a win for the roughly 1,500 hospital-based registered nurses and more than 300 on-call nurses but also for the healthcare system. Since the pay raise went into effect on February 5th, there has been a significant decrease in the number of nurses calling in sick each shift.
Erlanger has constantly thought outside the normal staffing model and worked hard to keep their staff from suffering extreme burnout. During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals around the country contracted with travel nurses to help offset the number of nurses leaving. Erlanger, on the other hand, offered incentives, bonuses, and overtime to the current nursing staff and utilized internal staffing contracts.
“They would come, and they were tired, and so four or five shifts in, they would call in. They’re exhausted,” Rachel Harris, the chief nursing executive said. “I think it’s giving them a chance to build back their resilience. And I think we’re getting more quality care out of the staff, because you just can’t continuously for 2 1/2 to three years work this amount of hours.”
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The pay increase was initially approved during a board meeting in January as a way to recruit and retain the current nursing staff. The decrease in the number of call-outs was an unforeseen bonus. But a welcome one.
This historic pay increase for nurses was also designed in order to maintain the more seasoned nursing staff. Prior to the announcement of the pay increase, hospital administrators noted that there were “babies teaching babies in terms of nursing staff.” The pay increase was also to entice former nurses, who already knew the health system, back.
“The best recruitment tool is our alumni and talking to those nurses that have been here before,” Erlanger trustee Dr. Mitch Mutter said. “And we hope to be able to capture some of those nurses that work in a temporary period status that will commit to us full-time.”
“We are setting up our nurses to have the ability to be clinical nurses for long, healthy careers,” Jessica Holladay, nurse director of trauma and surgical critical care at Erlanger said, “instead of getting burned out quickly and leaving the nursing profession.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for registered nurses in Tennessee was $66,680 which was significantly less than the national average of $77,600 per year.