Nursing Acuity Committee Leads Selection Process for Patient-Centered Staffing Tool

Photos by David Christopher

Left to right: Kristin McMahon, RN, MSN, BC, and Pamela Haemker, RN, were among the nurses who trained on a new software system designed to keep track of patient acuity in real time.

By Alison Szot

Training is under way for nurses who will be using a new computerized scheduling system beginning next month. The system is designed to achieve proper nurse staffing based on the actual needs, or acuity, of patients.

In January, nurse managers, staff nurses, patient care coordinators, nursing support assistants and technicians from throughout the Department of Nursing learned how to use the new system to easily and quickly make scheduling requests and changes. Nurse managers also learned how to use the system to make staffing determinations based on the acuity of their patient population.   

The new system automates a paper process that already was in place at the Medical Center and a lot of effort has been put into building it to mimic the former process.

“During the training session, I observed a tangible level of excitement among our nurses who view the system as a big win because it allows them to be more involved in the scheduling process,” said Corrin Steinhauer, RN, MS, OCN, interim director of oncology and the Clinical Research Center who is on the Medical Center’s Nursing Acuity Committee, which in 2010 was charged with selecting software that could streamline the Medical Center’s acuity-based staffing activities. Steinhauer adds that the system is very intuitive and nurses quickly learned how to use it easily and effectively.

Planning nurse staffing based on patient acuity has always been a top priority at the University of Chicago Medical Center, contributing both toward positive patient outcomes and nurse satisfaction. Illinois law requires hospitals to match the appropriate mix of nursing skill to patient needs and to convene a standing committee of nurses charged with reviewing the hospital-wide nurse staffing plan.

The Nursing Acuity Committee, comprised of 50 percent direct care nurses and 50 percent nurse managers, has been meeting regularly since 2007. It is co-chaired by Marianne Curia, RN, MSN, PhD, staff nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and Sally Szumlas, RN, MS, director for Nursing Informatics.

The chosen vendor, API Healthcare, describes the system as a data-driven program that was developed by master's- and doctoral-level registered nurses. The program analyzes clinical workload and recommends the most effective combination of schedule, time and skills to meet daily patient needs. In essence, it automates the current paper process and will make the planning and assignment functions more streamlined.

"It remains a high priority for nursing leadership to ensure nursing resources and expertise are aligned with the changing needs of our patients," said Szumlas. "Using a standard approach and evidence-based tools developed in our system, our aim is to enhance consistency and improve patient care outcomes."

Left to right: (front row) Amanda Sansone, RN; Sally Szumlas, RN, MS; and Adrienne McDonald, RN, BSN; and (back row) Kathleen Mandel-Pillar, RN; Susie Moon, RN, BSN; and Colleen Tazie, RN. Szumlas, director of Nursing Informatics, trained nurses on the new acuity software system.