As the novel coronavirus swept across New York City in March, Mount Sinai Health System officials realized they needed more nurses to care for a growing number of COVID-19 cases.
Mount Sinai, like many health systems, began reassigning nurses, nurse managers, nurse practitioners and certified registered nurse anesthetists from departments across the health system to work side-by-side with senior nurses and physicians specialized in critical care to treat patients with COVID-19.
That helped to address the “rapid increase of patients that we were seeing” in intensive-care units, said Natalie Callis, senior director for nursing professional development at Mount Sinai.
But it’s not enough to redeploy nurses to where they’re needed—nurses need specialized training to work in critical care.
Mount Sinai filled that training gap with Project Florence, a two-day, web-based training program the health system developed with artificial intelligence and education company Sana Labs.
Launched April 13, Project Florence is designed to help train nurses on skills specifically needed to care for COVID-19 patients. It supplements the training and mentoring from senior nurses and specialists that a nurse would receive if they had no critical-care experience.
Project Florence targeted a core challenge: the tendency to use a one-size-fits-all approach when expanding training for large groups, said Diane Adams, chief learning officer at Mount Sinai.
After an initial assessment, Project Florence uses AI to recommend information based on a user’s background. That helps Mount Sinai better customize the seven-module curriculum, since reassigned nurses will have different levels of critical-care experience, Adams said.
Since Project Florence is a supplemental learning tool, it’s not required for all redeployed nurses; however, nurse managers might assign it to a nurse as part of a learning plan.
As of mid-May, 176 Mount Sinai staff and nearly 800 people worldwide have used the program. It’s free for anyone to enroll in Project Florence, which is available to users outside of Mount Sinai, as well. Sana Labs didn’t charge Mount Sinai for developing the tool.
Mount Sinai isn’t alone in needing to train nurses for critical care. Hospitals across the U.S. have reassigned physicians and nurses to treat COVID-19 patients in the past few months, as cases top 1.9 million and deaths surpass 111,000, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Online learning offers more flexibility than in-person classes, since nurses can take the course after work or during downtime on the job, said Pam Arlotto, CEO of healthcare consultancy Maestro Strategies. That can be particularly useful in areas undergoing a COVID-19 surge where hospital leaders and clinicians might not have the time or resources to develop extensive in-person training.
Hackensack Meridian Health in Edison, N.J., reassigned more than 300 nurses in the wake of the pandemic. That included redeploying medical-surgical nurses to critical care and nurses from nonclinical roles—such as case management and population health—to support at the bedside.
To get nurses acclimated to their new assignments, Hackensack Meridian offered nurses access to a training module from Wolters Kluwer on COVID -19 care, which included skills like mechanical ventilation, prone positioning and correct use of personal protective equipment. “Many of the nurses that were being redeployed to patient-care areas had some concerns that they had been away from the bedside for a while,” said Donna Ciufo, Hackensack Meridian’s vice president of nursing education.
The module was optional, but Hackensack Meridian officials may switch to assigning it to help nurses prepare for a possible second surge.
Some post-acute care facilities have also turned to technology for COVID-19 education.
Knollwood Manor, a nursing home in Lafayette, Tenn., in April asked all staff—including nurses, but also dietary, housekeeping and laundry services staff—to complete a free web-based course from IntelyCare, a staffing company for skilled-nursing facilities and assisted-living centers. The 15-minute program offers an overview of practices for reducing transmission risks and preparing to care for COVID-19 patients.
None of the nursing home’s residents have tested positive for COVID-19.
The course was a convenient way to help staffers better understand some of the basics, such as the importance of isolating residents, said Flora Emberton, infection control preventionist and nurse who manages education at Knollwood Manor, especially for those who don’t deal with infection control regularly.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Knollwood Manor isolates any resident who returns from a hospital for 14 days. “Before, we very seldom isolated anybody,” Emberton said.