At a time when nurse turnover is reaching astronomically high levels in hospitals across the country, it’s more sensible than ever to invest in every facility’s most valuable resource: the people working there.

Cutting corners - in pay, benefits, nurse staffing and other working conditions - almost always proves much more costly in the long run, especially when it comes to a facility’s bottom line and its patient care.

A prime example: St. Joseph Medical Center-Tacoma (SJMC), where turnover has reached levels higher even than the already unacceptable national average.

Nurse turnover is costly

Nurse turnover, or the rate at which nurses leave their positions (voluntarily or otherwise) on any given hospital unit, costs the average hospital $4.4 million to $6.9 million dollars a year. That’s because it is expensive to find, recruit, orient and train nurses, who comprise the largest proportion of the health care workforce (the average cost of turnover per nurse is $52,100). This has resulted in a national RN turnover rate of 17.2%, which is unacceptably high. What other profession sees nearly one-fifth of its workforce leave for greener pastures every year?

How much more costly nurse turnover must be, then, in facilities with turnover rates even greater than the sky-high national average. This is being proven by SJMC.

Nurse turnover at SJMC is costing a fortune

Nurse turnover at SJMC is, for lack of a better word, obscene, and incredibly costly.

According to WSNA membership data, SJMC turned over 276 nurses in 2017, and 248 in 2018.This comes out to a turnover rate of 24.2% and 20.9% each year, respectively – rates much higher than national averages.

Put another way, turnover at SJMC in 2017 was a whopping 44% higher than the national average, while 2018 turnover came in a close second at “only” 21.5% greater than the national average.

These numbers are unacceptable. Using the average turnover cost per RN (which, it should be added, was self-reported on an industry survey of hospitals), we can calculate that nurse turnover cost SJMC $14.4 million dollars in 2017 and $12.9 million in 2018.

Is this really the best way for our non-profit institutions to be spending our money?

Nurses are telling SJMC how to stop the bleeding

Nurses at SJMC have spoken loud and clear when it comes to how management can work to reduce nurse turnover. In short, they’re telling their hospital that they need safe staffing, first and foremost. As SJMC nurse Richie Tiamzon put it, “we’re asking for the bare minimum needed to properly support ourselves and keep nurses at this hospital so that we can stop the bleeding and properly support our patients and save their lives without destroying our own.”

This is borne out by the research, which has found over and over that RN job dissatisfaction is inextricably linked to unsafe staffing, health benefits and sub-optimal compensation. Importantly, decreased RN job satisfaction and increased RN turnover is also linked to decreased patient satisfaction and quality of care.

This passes the common sense test. If I’m admitted to a hospital unit and the average time a nurse has worked on that unit is 1.5 years, I simply will not have the same outcomes as a unit with an average time of 10 years.

In the coming weeks we will continue to explore nurse turnover at SJMC, how the facility is spending its non-profit money, and how its posture towards its nurses is impacting patient care. Stay tuned.