Strong Memorial Hospital received a $1.35 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services last week. The grant will last for five years.

Strong was among 38 institutions selected from over 336 applicant hospitals and nursing schools nationwide. Money from the grant, which is the largest ever received by the hospital, will be used to improve the training program for Intensive Care Unit nurses.

“Intensive Care Units all over the country are suffering shortages of staff, and [Strong is] no exception,” Director of Clinical Nursing Research Gail Ingersoll said. “This grant could not have come at a better time.”

The current method used by hospitals for training ICU nurses requires them to spend a year or more working in a general care unit after graduating from nursing school before preparing for ICU. With the improved training method made possible by the grant, prospective ICU nurses will complete a 6-month orientation with high-tech simulators and online resources that will enable them to enter an ICU as soon as the orientation is finished.

The simulations and online resources will help the nurses to learn to pick up subtle changes in patients’ conditions and to respond accordingly. These skills are very time-consuming to learn if the nurse is already working in a general care unit.

These changes to the training program mean that Strong can now train nurses twice as fast, introducing 24 new nurses to the ICU every year who will theoretically have the same level of preparedness as the 12 who were trained every year under the old program.

The hospital’s administrators hope that the new grant will help Strong improve the strain on its nursing staff caused by the national shortage of trained nurses and the hospital’s continuing expansion, which is spreading out its existing staff and making it difficult to keep up with demand.

The new training program is part of the hospital’s effort to address this growing demand.

The grant money will also be used to develop new educational training methods for senior staff and a formalized mentoring program designed to help nurses cope with the high-pressure environment of the ICU.

The overall status of the ICU will also be improved by applying national guidelines for high-quality care and increasing workforce diversity through targeted employment of minorities.

Overall, these changes have good prospects, not just for the hospital itself but for its patients.

“In the past there was a year-long program for new ICU nurses before to start taking care of patients,” said Dr. Ingersoll. “Now they can go in and be as prepared as anyone else.”

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