Latavia Howard (left) and Lois Gulley (right) are nurse managers at East Regional Health Care.
Latavia Howard (left) and Lois Gulley (right) are nurse managers at East Regional Health Care. Photo by Phil Jones

In the Field: Elevating the Quality of Care

Recognizing the wide-ranging implications of health care provider shortages, in 2007 the College of Nursing (CON) partnered with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Augusta University Department of Psychiatry to address the staffing shortage at East Central Regional Hospital (ECRH). This two-campus state hospital provides health care to vulnerable people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and people who experience severe and persistent mental illness.

Under Dean Lucy Marion’s leadership, the CON entered the partnership to hire and support ECRH’s nursing staff, including nurse practitioners, registered nurses and patient care technicians. More nurses and administrative leadership means more time can be devoted to the patient population, ensuring the patients are receiving optimal care. That’s particularly important considering ECRH’s entire population has a mental illness or intellectual disability.

Hiring nurses also creates a more balanced workload, which keeps them from feeling burned out.

The relationship between the college and the hospital goes beyond simply adding to the nursing workforce. In 2016, the CON conducted a needs assessment to help determine how many nurses were actually needed to operate the hospital. In addition, the CON provides the necessary resources to make sure nurses are properly prepared.

“We have elevated the quality of care,” said Tracy Brickey, manager for the Center for Strategic Initiatives. “We are able to bring experience and expertise. Although a nurse may be new, he or she has the College of Nursing to draw from.”

The addition of these well-educated nurses has had a significant impact on daily operations at ECRH. By being able to provide more individualized attention, educating nurses and implementing procedural changes such as adjusting the physical environment, ECRH has seen a decrease in falls and aggressive incidents.

“We’re enhancing not only the Department of Nursing’s infrastructure, but the organization as a whole,” Brickey said.

Future efforts include impacting the culture by increasing employee engagement and educating on the resources that are available to help patients recover and transition back into the community.

“We want to create the guiding principles for caring for people with severe and persistent mental illnessa place where clinicians will want to come learn how to care for these people,” said Dr. J. Dwayne Hooks, assistant dean for community partnerships.

Since its formation 75 years ago, the CON has provided quality nursing education and helped prepare students to confidently enter the nursing profession, including interprofessional educational and research opportunities at ECRH. The college celebrated this legacy at its Diamond Jubilee Gala on Mar. 3.


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