Mercy Children's Hospital offers nurses summers off

August 15, 2018

Trial program addresses seasonal fluctuations in patient census and nurse satisfaction


What do you do about staffing when your pediatric census is seasonal, down in summer and full in winter?

Jenny Schwartz


Justin Travis


Christina Muzzy

Mercy Children's Hospital St. Louis in Creve Coeur, Mo., has a plan to address the problem. The new program offers nurses the opportunity to take a summer off with full benefits and a stipend. Participating nurses may choose to spend time with their families or fill short-term jobs offered in other cities. Either way, they keep their jobs and their seniority when they return to Mercy at summer's end.

"Last summer, we were fully staffed and some nurses were mandated to stay home because we didn't have enough patients," said Jenny Schwartz, executive director of the 54-bed children's hospital on the campus of Mercy Hospital St. Louis. "Respiratory illness is not as prevalent in the summer, and some nurses had to use their paid time off until that ran out and then, some had to look elsewhere for jobs."

Schwartz heard repeatedly during exit interviews that although the nurses loved their work and hated to leave, they couldn't afford to be without work for three months. "We talked to them about what was important to them," she said. "We also talked to some hospitals on the coasts that have programs in place that address seasonal staffing needs and also help retain and recruit nurses."

Currently, Mercy Children's Hospital is offering a one-year contract that calls for six pediatric nurses to work 36 hours per week from Sept. 1 through May 31, with full-time benefits options but no scheduled paid time off. Salaries for the three summer months will be covered with a combination of paid time off and a stipend of $2,500. The program, which Schwartz called a trial, will commence next month.

"This is a way to incentivize nurses to stay here, and also to keep those who want to work all summer and get a full paycheck," said Justin Travis, nurse manager for pediatrics. Travis said he has received between 40 and 50 applications, some from nurses in other cities. To date, two nurses have been offered the contract.

Christina Muzzy of Ballwin, Mo., is one of them. She has worked at the hospital for three years. "This is an awesome opportunity," said Muzzy, 25. "I've always wanted to do travel nursing but couldn't because I wouldn't have had a job to come back to afterward. Mercy is an awesome hospital, and I didn't want to quit, and with this new program, I keep my job, my seniority and my day shifts. Nothing will change when I return."

The national nursing shortage has given rise to the popularity of travel nursing, which offers temporary work for a finite time, sometimes as long as eight to 13 weeks for hospitals with staffing exigencies. Muzzy said she plans to look for temporary nursing assignments in Chicago and Kansas City for next summer.

The opportunity for travel nursing isn't the only benefit to the new program. "We've heard from nurses with kids home in the summer, and we've heard how costly day camp is because you pay for a full week at a time, even if you don't need child care for five days," Travis said. "With this program, some nurses will be able to spend the summer with their kids and still be paid."

Schwartz added, "We came up with this plan for co-worker satisfaction, but it's fiscally responsible too. Plus, we'll be using our nurses at the right time, when our beds are full, and maybe help prevent the possibility of burnout as well."

It's too soon to tell whether Mercy Children's Hospital will continue the program after the trial period. Schwartz said, "It's a great plan, and we will evaluate it after the first year."



Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.