The Organization of Nurse Leaders of New Jersey has started a pilot program to create better workplace environments for staff nurses, exploring efforts to improve patient outcomes and staff satisfaction.

The organization, which consists of about 600 nurses, teamed up last summer with Rutgers School of Nursing to create the "Healthy Work Environment" program. Five hospitals agreed to be pilot hospitals including Jefferson Health NJ, Lourdes Health System in Camden, Capital Health, Jersey City Medical Center and Hunterdon Medical Center.

"Healthy Work Environment and nurse staffing are really important for patient safety and for quality of care," Helene Burns, chief nurse executive at Jefferson Health NJ, said.

She said counsels have been formed at each hospital ,with 50 percent of each counsel consisting of staff nurses. She said nurses work with nurse administrators to improve work environments.

There have been three educational sessions for all of the members, and the fourth one is this month. Nurses will be surveyed on the impact of the work that they've done.

"Having an environment that the nurses feel is healthy is really the goal of the program, and that is multi-faceted from adequate staffing to good communication amongst the different caregivers," Burns said.

She says having the right skill mix of staff to care for patients is important. The program also encourages nurses to be engaged at the bedside with nurse administrators so they can work on their environment together.

One issue that is often discussed in this pilot program, Burns said, is shift safety. For example, if a nurse is working the night shift, three main questions that are addressed are, "Do you get enough sleep? Do you get enough to eat? Do you get enough exercise?"

Burns also said the group hopes to expand the Healthy Work Environment" pilot program to more than 10 hospitals by 2019.

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