There is no such thing as a slow day at Hilo Medical Center in Hawaii. It’s one of the busiest and best rated hospitals in the state, but there isn’t enough staff to go around. It has been struggling to retain and attract nursing talent on the island, but the pool of candidates is small. There is a state-wide shortage of nurses, including thousands of nursing aides.
Hilo recently announced it will begin hiring aspiring nursing aides even if they have zero previous experience. It’s in an effort to increase the talent pool by hiring candidates that wouldn’t normally qualify for a nursing position. The hospital will then train them on the job until they have the skills they need to do their jobs on their own.
It marks a new approach to combat the staff shortage, and more facilities could follow in their footsteps in the future as the staff shortage gets worse.
“We’ve been operating at about 130% capacity throughout the hospital. And in the ER, we’re seeing between 140 to 160 patients a day,” said Hilo registered nurse Tyler Sumner.
The staff could use some relief. The facility has been grappling with a staff shortage for years, considering the limited talent pool in Hawaii. Aspiring nurses and providers can’t just drive across state lines to get a job at Hilo. They would have to move to an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
To make matters worse, one of the largest and only nursing aide training programs in the state shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, further limiting the talent pool.
“We posted all these jobs, and we are noticing the vacancies were staying open,” said Hilo Medical Center Director of Public Affairs Elena Cabatu. “We just weren’t getting the candidates that we were looking for.”
Like many hospitals in the U.S., Hilo has been able to use travel nurses from the continental U.S. to fill in the gaps, but administrators say it would far too expensive to import nursing aides.
“So, we decided to organize a nurse aide training program and actually pay them to be trained,” Cabatu said.
The facility says it hopes to offer the special entry program two to three times a year. The position earns around $40,000 a year. And the tasks nurse aides perform are critical.
“They help with activities of daily living. Helping with baths, helping brush teeth, helping us feed the patients. Doing vitals,” said Hilo Medical Center House Supervisor Angela Kanae.
It’s the first paid training program for nursing aides in the state, but it could become a model for other facilities looking to attract talent.
However, participating in the program isn’t the same as getting certified as a nursing aide. “It’s a little different. It’s not a certification,” said Hilo Medical Center Critical Care Nursing Director Yvette Masaoka.
“They have a two-week training. And then they will be acclimated to their unit,” Cabatu added.
“The nurse aides on the floor (will train) a little bit shorter. Within two months they should be on their own,” Masaoka said.
Nursing aides assigned to critical care departments will need to complete another three months of training.
The program is good news for aspiring nursing aides in Hawaii, especially those that don’t have any experience. It can help dozens of providers get paid while they learn.
Hilo says the program officially launches on September 6. It will hire up to 10 trainees to start.
“If you know anyone who’s 18, interested in the medical field, wants to come and join our team. This is an amazing place to work,” said Masaoka.