Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital launches new pilot program to address nursing shortages

Breann Aubry, registered nurse, pulls the IV stand as she walks with a patient Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb.

DeKALB – In an attempt to combat existing workforce shortages, Northwestern Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb is piloting a program that brings back a familiar staffer to health care life: A licensed practical nurse.

If successful, the pilot program could be expanded, hospital officials said this week. The pilot program is the health system’s way of bringing back licensed practical nurses – at one point a staple used in hospital settings as a way to provide support for licensed registered nurses, who traditionally receive more training than an LPN – to help offset a growing need for labor.

The licensed practical nurses will work under the watchful guidance of a registered nurse to meet the hospital’s health care worker needs. LPNs perform basic patient care tasks and help to keep patients comfortable.

“The licensed practical nurse model has been in existence for years,” said Corinne Haviley, chief nurse executive at Kishwaukee Hospital. “Typically what these nurses do once they graduate is they go to extended care facilities, nursing home type environments.”

Now, the health system is recruiting those nurses to DeKalb.

According to the Illinois Nursing Workforce Center, LPNs more frequently practice at nursing and residential care facilities. In Illinois, as of 2021, 51% of LPNs practice in long-term care, rehabilitation or assisted living, 16% are in outpatient settings, 10% are in home health and 3% are school nurses.

Data collected by the workforce center that surveyed LPNs from Nov. 8, 2020 to Feb. 1, 2021 shows an average salary range for Illinois nurses is $25,000 to $55,000. According to the survey findings, 48% of LPNs received a community college education.

Dani Witkowski, (left to right) registered nurse and nursing manager, Kellie Armstrong, registered nurse, Sarah Lyons, registered nurse, Breann Aubry, registered nurse, and Corinne Haviley, chief nursing executive, talk Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb.

“The pendulum is swinging again and bringing them back into acute care hospitals, which is what were considered,” Haviley said. “Licensed practical nurses have a certain level where they can do very specific things.”

LPNs complete a one-year training program, often through community colleges, and must pass the National Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). They are skilled at day-to-day care for patients, including recording vitals, monitoring patient status, changing wound dressings, giving most medications, helping to feed, bathe and dress, and making patients more comfortable.

A job description from Northwestern Medicine asks that applicants are experienced in clinic and nursing care, and works under the direction of physicians or RNs, to treat and evaluate patients, while maintaining standards of practical nursing practice mandated by the American Nursing Association.

“We are looking at a lot of different ways to make it a more wellness enhanced environment for our staff,” said Dani Witkowski, patient care manager at Kishwaukee hospital.

Witkowski said working in a hospital setting can appeal to LPNs.

“A lot of nurses, they want the opportunity to be here, that they’re licensed practical, but they’ve been in that role in extended care facilities for so long,” she said. “This gives them the opportunity to get a taste for this and work at their top of their license.”

The pilot program is still evolving, Haviley said.

“It’s not something that every hospital is doing, but it’s something exciting for us because it is a big change,” Haviley said. “Again, it’s a pilot, so we’re trialing different types of models with the LPN as apart of the work that we are focused on.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for all of us, for all types of nurses.”

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