Better Data, Better Decisions help hospitals analyze their workforce

Nurses make up the largest group of health-care providers within hospitals, challenging administrators to face the question of how nurses can work in jobs that are safe for them while providing patients with the highest quality care.

Nursing shortages, recruitment and retention, appropriate staffing ratios and job satisfaction are a few of the complexities hospitals are wrestling with as they head into an uncertain future with aging baby boomers requiring increasing numbers of nurses to look after them.

How does a hospital develop some foresight about future trends in nursing so that its staff and services are prepared for what lies ahead?

It’s a question investigators in the Nursing Health Services Research Unit (NHSRU) at McMaster University have been delving into for some time and they have an answer.

From their research, they undertook a study called Better Data, Better Decisions, which can be used by individual hospitals to develop a comprehensive overview of an institution’s workforce. By collecting data annually, a picture of nursing staff emerges which can be used for recruitment and retention strategies while, at the same time, predicting future trends.

“Workforce planning is as important as financial planning. People are the dollar value for the organization,” said Dr. Andrea Baumann, lead author of the study who is director of the NHSRU, McMaster University site.

“An annual workforce profile is critical in order to focus on an essential element of the human capital of an organization ” the nurses,” she said. “It is critical information for understanding present workforce trends and future needs.”

In December, Dr. Baumann presented the Better Data, Better Decisions document to Ontario Hospital Association executives. She also made presentations to tertiary, community and rural hospitals in the province which showed significant interest. She is available to assist hospitals throughout Ontario conduct an analysis of their nursing workforce.

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), a tertiary hospital in southern Ontario, used Better Data, Better Decisions to analyze its workforce and will be repeating the analysis again this year.

“This study showed us where segments of our nursing workforce such as new grads and late career nurses currently work, whether they work full or part time and how long they stay with Hamilton Health Sciences,” said Verla Fortier, senior consultant, nursing recruitment and retention at HHS.

Fortier said HHS now has the nursing workforce baseline it needs to systematically track the effects of targeted HHS recruitment and retention initiatives while comparing itself to the larger nursing workforce picture, provincially and nationally.

At HHS, NHSRU researchers retrieved data from the hospital’s Human Resource Information System (HRIS), analyzing and synthesizing data sources not usually accessed for this purpose.

The analysis revealed some interesting aspects of the HHS nursing workforce. It showed that HHS, with one of the largest nursing workforces in the country, is heading into an impending problem if it doesn’t increase the number of younger nurses on its staff.

It also found the internal turnover at HHS was high with 32 per cent of the nursing workforce changing jobs or status. In contrast, the overall retention rate was high and the degree of external turnover was low. The findings also showed younger nurses were accessing paid leave more than their senior counterparts.

As well, Dr. Baumann’s analysis found the overall number of nurses at HHS increased and there was a significant move to increase the proportion of full-time workers. She also uncovered the fact that the total number of overtime hours converted to a significant number of full-time positions. For example, in Adult Specialty Services, overtime hours were the equivalent of eight full-time jobs per year.

In Better Data, Better Decisions identifying the nature of a hospital’s nursing workforce involves:

  • Collection of baseline data on all nurses who provide direct patient care ” grouped by occupation using union and job codes as criteria.
  • Collecting data at the beginning and end of the fiscal year.
  • Analysis of nursing workforce characteristics according to: numbers of female and male nurses; average age of nurses; number of nurses by professional category; employment status ; nursing workforce in programs and specialty areas; multiple employment; overtime hours; job vacancies; job turnover; paid and unpaid leave; absenteeism; professional development and comparison to national and provincial workforces.

The full report is available on the Nursing Health Services Research Unit Web site

Appointments with Dr. Baumann can be made by contacting Laurie Kennedy at 1-905-525-9140 x22206.