By Ashley VonNida, DNP, MBA, MSN, Chief Nursing Officer, Equum Medical
Last summer I made a career-changing decision to move from a prime nurse leadership post at one of our nation’s largest health systems to become Chief Nursing Officer of Equum Medical, a fast-growing telehealth services company. From the outside it might have seemed like I was just another burned-out healthcare executive fleeing Covid and its messy aftermath. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. I made the move to do my part to save our precious resources in bedside nursing.
Several years ago, long before the pandemic, I could see evidence of what was to come. The average nurse was getting older. We were witnessing the beginnings of burnout, as the patient population also was aging and getting more acute. The mental health crisis, now raging out of control, was starting to take hold. As we prepared for a nursing shortage, the nursing schools just weren’t able to produce enough graduates to meet rising needs, held back in large part by a lack of nurses willing to take faculty posts.
As Covid struck, anything keeping nurses satisfied and on the job disappeared, replaced by PPE shortages, longer shifts, mostly unvaccinated patients dying in unprecedented numbers, and staff scared of coming to work. Burnout was inevitable. I began to think about what came next.
While the pandemic raged, like everyone else I began to learn about telehealth, not just as a way for physicians to check in with patients, but as a means of providing relief for bedside nurses. When the loss of some staff turned into an exodus of experienced, knowledgeable and talented RNs, I began to look more deeply at how we could hold hospital care together without the onsite level of nursing care we were used to. This was a problem that called for innovation.
In remaking the U.S. healthcare system, telehealth is a major piece of the puzzle, but we have to be purposeful and flexible in implementation. At Equum, which has added virtual nursing to its portfolio of physician support services, we see a dual opportunity.
One is to help hospitals drive out expensive traveling nurses and stop the use of skilled nursing assistants as one-to-one patient sitters. A telehealth nurse can care for four to six patients simultaneously using video and audio. A virtual sitter can watch a dozen or more at a time.
I am overseeing the startup of Equum’s Virtual Care Collaboration Center, where all of this work will happen. We also seek to use the center to establish best practices in virtual care and redefine care delivery.
The other opportunity is to hire many of those experienced nurses and over time transfer their knowledge to a new generation of caregivers. If you are passionate about patient care and have mixed feelings about leaving the bedside, you now have options to provide patient care in a controlled environment that improves your life and those of countless patients at hospitals across the US. In the process you actually have a more varied and interesting job, minus the heavy lifting and 12-hour shifts.
We aren’t looking to poach bedside nurses, just give those who may have resigned or retired without a plan, a place to complete their careers.
The bottom line for me is to bring the joy back to nursing, allowing nurses to work to the top of their licenses while staying connected with patients and their peers.
For those nurses and me, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime..
About Ashley VonNida, DNP, MBA, MSN, CNO Equum Medical
Ashley is the Chief Nursing Officer for Equum Medical. In this role Ashley leads all nursing, clinical leadership and quality performance activities across the Equum business and professional services portfolio. VonNida heads Equum Medical’s Virtual Care Collaboration Center in Nashville, TN where clinical teams deliver both the Virtual Nursing and Virtual Sitter services. Ashley splits her time on strategic telehealth service product development as well as successfully implementing these services in Equum’s growing client base nationally. Ashley has over 25 years in the Healthcare setting, most recently serving in leadership roles at Community Health Systems and Tenet Healthcare. Ashley comes with her Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master’s in Business and Nursing. She has spent her career in the Acute Care setting improving patient outcomes and engaging Nursing to make a difference every day