Nurses, of course, have always been assigned by unit—that is, geographically. So it should come as no surprise that searching “unit-based” at the-hospitalist.org returns many articles about assigning hospitalists geographically, but not nurses, partly because few would consider it a new idea. But this article is about a new wrinkle in assigning nurses.
Although there likely are a number of hospitals doing something similar, I’ll describe a place I was lucky enough to see up close.
Bassett Medical Center
On a cold day last December, I was part of a team that spent a few days in Cooperstown, N.Y. This is a place that is so pretty that I didn’t immediately recognize we had arrived at the Bassett Medical Center Campus, since the entrance we used looked more like a library topped by a pretty cupola and warmly decorated for the holidays. We met so many nice people, including Kai Mebust, MD, FHM, who I’m convinced works full-time for the local Chamber of Commerce and tourism industry. If he doesn’t, then they should put him on their payroll.
Not long after our arrival, Dr. Mebust led us outside in the winter air without our coats to see the very beautiful view from the patio adjacent to the hospital cafeteria. And before we left for home he climbed in our car to direct us on a tour of the town. I’m sold. What a beautiful place. So much more than the Baseball Hall of Fame for which Cooperstown is known.
When not promoting his town’s tourism or enthusiastically describing his eighth-grade son playing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans, he seems to find time to serve as the chief of this academic hospital’s hospital medicine practice. He was the principal engineer of the geographic assignment of nurses and describes it with an enthusiasm that matches his service as tour guide.
Geographic Care: Single RN Caring for Five Adjacent Patients
The idea is simple and best described using an illustration. A single nurse cares for five patients in adjacent rooms referred to as a “pod.” A second nurse is responsible for the next pod of five consecutive patients, and a single hospitalist cares for all 10 in both pods. There are currently four pods on a single floor of 36 beds; however, they hope to expand this system to most of the medical-surgical beds in the hospital.
The nurses eligible to care for patients in these pods are all trained to be able to provide “step down” level of care, meaning patients don’t need to transfer to a different location for more frequent monitoring and such therapies as vasopressors, mask ventilation, and the like.
Each hospitalist caring for two pods of 10 adjacent patients will typically have additional patients in other locations. This is the hospital’s way of finding the sweet spot between the competing interests of “load leveling” patient volume across hospitalists and rigidly assigning each doctor to a single location, though if they succeed in expanding the model through most of the hospital, the hospitalists will likely need to figure out how to assign themselves more rigidly to three or four pods.
Each morning, the hospitalist meets with the two pod nurses. They briefly discuss overnight events and plans for the day.
Much later in the morning, they also conduct daily multidisciplinary rounds involving nurse, case manager, pharmacist, dietician, social worker, respiratory therapist, and hospitalist. These follow a standard format, which is posted on the wall, and are done in a workroom that allows most participants to be in front of a computer, so they can enter notes and orders into the electronic health record (EHR) as they discuss patients.