SSM Health launches flexibility programs for nurses

SSM Health, the St. Louis-based healthcare provider that owns St. Mary’s, has changed its approach to nursing recruitment to help develop and retain nurses.

Some residual healthcare challenges remain in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So many nurses in every community, not just Jefferson City, have moved into “travel nursing” that it’s straining healthcare providers’ efforts to attract and retain talented nurses, according to Stormy Anderson, senior director of human resources. resources for SSM Health in Mid-Missouri.

Demand for travel nurses — those who work for an agency and substitute for health care providers — has exploded during the pandemic, according to Pay was higher and hours were shorter, although traveling nurses spent some time away from home.

In many cases, staff working at these health care facilities resented that temporary workers were earning far more than they were, and morale suffered, according to the site.

SSM Health has looked at providing more flexibility in the tasks nurses can be involved in on each unit and the hours they work.

According to Janet Ware-Enlow, director of business development and marketing, nurses who started nursing travel wanted that flexibility, but they also wanted full-time salaries. SSM Health looked at hospitals’ PRN levels. PRNs (pro re nata, or “as the situation requires”) are registered nurses who work shifts as required.

“Generally, you’re a PRN for one unit (like intensive care) or another,” Wear-Enloe said. “We have nurses who are really skilled and passionate about the ICU. Then they can be PRN nurses in the ICU.”

Because they are in PRN status, they typically do not receive full benefit packages, she continued. There are different premium levels for PRNs because they don’t receive the normal benefits, she said.

SSM Health has seven new programs that allow nurses to shape their careers while providing them with greater freedom and flexibility and earning potential.

Each program has slightly different work expectations than the others. Nurses can choose roles that suit their individual and professional preferences.

SSM Health PRN programs one through three allow nurses to work around their schedule to pick up a few extra shifts each month. With PRN Four, nurses can enjoy the benefits of full-time travel nursing without missing home or experiencing the uncertainty of agency or freelance work. These “floating pool” programs (where nurses are staffed during short-term unit staffing or at times when the number of admitted patients exceeds the maximum capacity of the nursing unit as determined by safety and quality standards) give nurses a chance to experience different SSM Health regions or specialties.

SSM Health prefers that swimming pool nurses are qualified in at least three different areas.

“As more companies offer enticing alternatives to traditional employment, SSM Health saw the need to develop a lucrative program for today’s caregivers,” according to an SSM Health news release. Registered nurses in flexible nursing roles qualify for pay practices rarely offered to this segment of the workforce, including shift differentials, critical shift bonuses, and bonuses.

Nurses can discover new ways of working while doing what they love. SSM Health Recruiters are ready to chat and create a schedule that fits their lifestyle. Learn more about SSM Health’s flexible nursing options by visiting

Cynthia Dixon, SSM Health vice president and chief nursing officer, said the health care provider developed a strategic task force earlier this year.

“They started looking — what are nurses looking for now and in the future?” Dixon said. “What will motivate nurses?”

The goal of the program is to retain existing staff and keep new nurses in Jefferson City, Dixon added.

“Those nurses that travel to other states — we want to try to keep them here in the Missouri market, especially in Jefferson City,” Dixon said.

The task force contacted nurses in Missouri and nurses in states surrounding Missouri, she said. They wanted answers about what younger nurses wanted, she said.

“What they found is that (nurses) want more freedom. They wanted to get higher wages,” Dixon said. “A large percentage don’t necessarily want benefits.”

After several months, the task force brought the programs together in hopes of standardizing all SSM hospitals so that they all offer similar packages and incentives for nurses.

Having flexibility also helps the hospital because it prevents the provider from hiring a few extra people during flu season (fall) when they may or may not be needed.

“This was our way of really allowing (nurses) to stay where they love, taking care of their community members,” Wear-Enloe said. “But also get that opportunity to gain more experience in different areas.”

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