South Florida Hospital News
Friday October 23, 2020

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May 2006 - Volume 2 - Issue 11


VITAS Grows Its Own

What do you do when your need for top-quality nursing staff far outpaces the availability?

"The nursing shortage is reaching critical proportions across America," notes Kal Mistry, senior vice president of human resources for VITAS Innovative Hospice Care®, with corporate offices in Miami and hospice programs in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. "By 2010, there will be a shortage of more than a million nurses in the United States. In Florida, the nursing shortage is expected to quadruple by 2020 to a gap of 47,000.

"In South Florida, statistics show that 30 percent of nurses expect to retire in the next six to eight years. And at VITAS, where the average age of an employee is 48, more than 40 percent of our work force is in the nursing profession. Clearly, VITAS and all healthcare organizations need to look at alternative ways to recruit nurses."

VITAS has long been proactive in nurse education, establishing partnerships with nursing colleges and funding programs that allow VITAS home health aides to become nurses. But when Mistry became the company’s VP of HR in 2002, she brought with her a vision of how business and public education could work together for the good of both.

Formerly the associate superintendent of human resources for the sixth largest school district in the nation, Mistry launched an initiative in August 2005 in cooperation with her former boss, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Frank Till. The program partners VITAS with the system’s vocational and technical schools to help both VITAS and the community reduce nursing shortages while enriching the system’s healthcare courses.

"The beauty of this program," says Mistry, "is that while VITAS’ clinical staff provides a ‘hospice 101’ curriculum, the course also incorporates an HR perspective on resume building and interviewing skills. So we are not providing students solely with the skills to become better nurses, but also the skills to interact with the business world and get an edge on presentation skills and job searches."

VITAS staff are involved on several levels, from the Human Resources Department and Hospice Education & Training in the corporate office to members of patient care teams in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

VITAS Entiende a Sus Pacientes que Hablan Español
(VITAS Understands Its Spanish–Speaking Patients)

When the partnership between VITAS and Broward County Public Schools is so successful, why limit it to a healthcare curriculum? That was the thinking when VITAS joined Broward’s Workforce Education Program to offer a basic Spanish language course for VITAS clinical staff providing hands-on patient care in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The year-long class was customized to give Spanish language skills in workplace terminology and communication to selected VITAS employees who have Spanish-speaking patients. Course Developer Dr. Maria Koonce began by shadowing VITAS employees to determine the skills and vocabulary necessary. The Workforce Education Program provides three hours per week of on-site classroom instruction. Each student also logs in three additional hours per week of distance learning.

"Death and dying are difficult subjects in any language," says Rosario Salas, a team manager at VITAS Innovative Hospice Care® of Broward County. "Our hospice teams routinely go out of their way to put patients and families first, and they have embraced this opportunity to improve the lines of communication. It’s wonderful to have an education system that can create a curriculum that so specifically meets our needs."

Dade Nurse Educator Daisy King, MSN, RN, offers a hospice orientation. Other VITAS teachers include Senior Human Resources Recruiter Lisa Cushing covering "Interviewing Skills;" Dade Bereavement Services Manager Vincent Treglio teaching "Grief & Bereavement;" and Broward Patient Care Administrator Edie Beroldi, RN, who discusses "Pain Management."

"This is a win-win situation," says Beroldi, who has been with VITAS for 13 years. "We introduce the concept of hospice and encourage students to consider it as a career path. But it also opens the lines of communication. Everyone’s been touched by pain and death; after my presentation there were 20 minutes of questions about drugs, jobs and hospice."

VITAS and the school system worked for a year to develop the end-of-life curriculum, which was introduced to licensed practical nurse students with the help of John Miracola, director of the Broward Career, Technical and Adult/Community Education program, and his team. The first LPNs whose classroom instruction and clinical rotations incorporated a hospice module graduated in January of 2006 and were offered interviews for open VITAS positions soon after. The first students to receive the full, five-term hospice-augmented program will graduate in June.

A similar curriculum for students hoping to become home health aides is being considered. "This partnership is an outstanding example of how our students, VITAS and the healthcare industry as a whole benefit when business and education work cooperatively," says Miracola. "As a result of our collaboration, students will be better prepared for employment opportunities within VITAS, and will have additional skills they can use as healthcare providers beyond the hospice industry."

If it continues its current success, this kind of school partnership will be explored for the other 14 states where VITAS has hospice programs—all of which face nursing recruitment challenges.

Dian Backoff, vice president of operations at VITAS Innovative Hospice Care®, can be reached at 800-93VITAS.
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