The California Nurses Association, with the help of a $904,000 grant, announced plans last week to launch a nurse-mentoring program at four Catholic Healthcare West hospitals in the state. The announcement was made as the state prepares to implement a new nurse-staffing ratio law in January.
The project, which is being funded by the California Endowment-a private, statewide health foundation-is aimed at slowing the attrition rate of nurses at acute-care hospitals. The three-year California Nurse Mentors Project will partner nurses who are new to the profession with more experienced nurses for training and support.
The mentoring pairings also will focus on matching beginning nurses who have multicultural backgrounds with veteran nurses, organizers said.
"We are going to develop a whole corps of veterans who will acclimate the new generation," said Joyce Mills, a special project coordinator for the California Nurses Foundation, a union affiliate that is helping launch the program. "We are going to have to rely on veteran nurses."
Nurses with less than one year in the profession are the most likely to quit their jobs, making it critical that veteran nurses lend support to their rookie colleagues, said Kay McVay, union president.
The nurse-mentoring program is one example of how hospitals in the state are trying to prepare for California's controversial nurse-staffing law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2004. Hospitals must meet certain staffing ratios per patient or face fines from the state's health department. The ratios will require hospitals to staff one nurse for every six patients in medical-surgical units.
Last week, the California Senate approved legislation that calls for $10,000 fines on hospitals that violate the ratio law and $5,000 fines for other patient-safety violations. Currently, state health officials can levy only fines of $50 per patient if a hospital fails to comply with its own plan for correcting unsafe conditions. The legislation, sponsored by Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, could be signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis this week when he speaks at the group's convention in Oakland, a union spokesman said.
Nationally, turnover rates for nurses are at their highest level-from 20% to 25%-in decades, according to the state's nurses association. Approximately 30% of nurses younger than 30 leave their jobs within a year because of factors ranging from inadequate staffing to poor compensation, McVay said.
"There is a need to provide one-on-one support for newly hired, newly trained and transitioning nurses," she said. "We expect nurses to develop this model."
Pairing minority nurses with mentors is especially important because it helps guarantee that registered nurses will "more closely reflect the population we serve and enhance the quality of care," McVay said.
St. Bernardine Medical Center, a 266-bed hospital in San Bernardino, and 239-bed Sequoia Hospital, Redwood City, are scheduled to be the first hospitals to employ the mentoring program starting in February. Overall, 160 registered nurses who are either recent graduates or who are learning to work in specialty-care departments will be partnered with veteran nurses at the four hospitals.
The two remaining Catholic Healthcare West hospitals that will participate will not be decided until results from the first two hospitals are analyzed, Mills said.
Ernest Urquhart, senior vice president of human resources at Catholic Healthcare West, said the training and mentoring of nurses will "ultimately improve the delivery of healthcare in the communities we serve."