Nursing Retention and Engagement in a Pandemic

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As hospitals across the nation struggle with retaining nurses, one Massachusetts rehabilitation hospital has been able to not only retain nurses but also improve nursing retention rates and trust throughout the pandemic.

What’s its secret? According to nursing leadership at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts, it’s all about communication and keeping staff informed.

“Transparency was a big factor,” said Margaret Kantianis, nursing manager. “We all have different styles of communications. It was really just keeping staff informed and letting them know what processes we were implementing to keep them safe.”

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Learn about the nursing retention strategies used improving retention rates and build trust at Encompass Health Western Mass.

Improving Nursing Retention Rates and Building Trust

While many providers experienced an exodus of nurses throughout the pandemic, Encompass Health Western Mass saw an improvement in nursing retention rates by nearly two percent from 2019 to 2020.

In a time of great uncertainty, the hospital also saw an improvement in its overall nursing culture. According to the hospital’s annual employee engagement survey, which gauges employees’ feelings on culture and trust within the hospital, among other things, trust rose from 52 percent in 2019 to more than 70 percent in 2020.

“There was room for improvement in trust in 2019,” said Cidalia Vital, chief nursing officer. “During the pandemic we were able to establish it. We were working side by side. Our culture of trust shot up to 70 percent and maintained that for 2021.”

Key Interventions

Though Encompass Health Western Mass experienced surges in COVID cases within the community throughout 2020 and into 2022, positive cases among employees and patients remained low.

Vital credits that to the hospital’s infection prevention screening process and daily updates on new and changing protocols from hospital leadership.

They conducted daily huddles with nursing staff for all shifts. Handwashing and low-level disinfection audits were increased. They also formed a nursing professional practice council to improve decision making.

Through it all, Encompass Health Western Mass also hosted socially distanced engagement activities to recognize nurses and celebrate successes.

When the vaccine became available, hospital leadership were the first to roll up their sleeves and receive the shot.

A Team Effort

Their tactics paid off. Kantianis said the hospital became almost like a place of refuge, where staff felt protected.

“It was a place where everyone was really following the guidelines and recommendations,” she said. “All nursing staff, as well as other employees, really felt comfortable coming to work.”

Staff nurse Jessica Sousa has been at Encompass Health Western Mass for four years. Even at times when nurses were out sick, she said everyone stepped in to do their part.

“For me, watching our team from the beginning to the end of 2020, I don’t know, it was like magic,” she said. “Everybody wanted to do the right thing. There was a lot of anxiety about the unknown. Everybody pitched in. It was a team effort.”

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