Mary Greeley, Iowa State launch partnership to combat nationwide nursing shortage

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

Though exacerbated by the pandemic, Mary Greeley Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Cory Geffre says the nationwide nursing shortage is a "perfect storm" that has been brewing for several years.

In September, the American Nurses Association asked the Department of Health and Human Services to declare an ongoing nurses shortage as hospitals across the country struggled to find staff. A Long Island emergency room closed temporarily just ahead of Thanksgiving due to staffing shortages, according to The Hill.

Geffre said employing traveling nurses and temporary staff has helped minimize the recruitment issues' impact on patients at Mary Greeley, but the hospital staff feels the stress of having fewer hands than they’d like.

"COVID didn't create it, it just accelerated the timeline," Geffre said. "There's not much of this that we're going through right now that people who have been involved in health care and, specifically, nursing didn't see coming."

One reason for the shortage, Geffre said, is health care's lacking flexibility, especially at a hospital open all day, every day. Those who look for remote work with flexible hours likely won't choose a job in health care. Others, like executive director of National Nurses United Bonnie Castillo, argue difficult working conditions and 12-hour workdays with few breaks drive nurses away. 

"I really feel that there is additional stress that health care workers and leaders are feeling," Geffre said. "This isn't just the hospital or health care problem; this will eventually touch every household in some form or fashion."

More:New partnership with Iowa State offers paid tuition to Mary Greeley nurses

But the hospital hopes offering employees a step forward in their education could give them an edge in their recruiting efforts.

Mary Greeley announced last week they will send at least eight nurses annually through Iowa State's nursing program with full tuition paid, a new tool to help with the hospital's recruitment and improve hospital operations. 

A report by the National Academy of Medicine published earlier this year found U.S. hospitals will need to increase the number of nurses with bachelor's of science in nursing degrees to improve patient outcomes. Mary Greeley employs 601 nurses, 62% of which hold such a degree, according to the hospital, and more than 60 nursing positions are open. 

"It's something Mary Greeley has been committed to for the last 10 years," Geffre said. "But also understanding that there are real-life obstacles that get in the way of people being able to accomplish their dreams or to make this next level — and one of the largest hurdles is the financial one."

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Iowa State's nursing program was added to the university in 2018, and the partnership between the university and the hospital has been two and a half years in the making, Geffre said, adding that there will be no limit to the number of nurses who can go through the program at no expense to themselves each year. 

Iowa State was able to shorten its three-semester program to two semesters to make the partnership with Mary Greeley work, Geffre said. 

"There's just no higher calling that exists than taking care of people," Geffre said. "That is amazingly honorable work and I believe that there's a generation that really wants to make an impact.

“A career in health care can fill a lot of the things that people are looking for."

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.