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Getting employees together for mandatory inservices can be a difficult task when everyone already has so much to do. So why not let them get the information when their own schedules permit, by offering the training in a newsletter format?
It’s a strategy that’s worked well for employees of St. Luke’s Hospital of Bethlehem, PA, and the affiliated Visiting Nurses Association (VNA) of Eastern Pennsylvania, say Debra Phillips, RN, MSN, director of educational services at St. Luke’s, and Linda Mitman, RN, BSN, the VNA’s performance improvement manager.
St. Luke’s began using newsletters more than four years ago at the suggestion of a manager who had seen a similar project elsewhere, Phillips says. It was an attempt to deal with the time crunch employees were experiencing. Since then, it has become a popular training tool for staff, who can digest the information at their own pace.
"When I first came here eight years ago, we had an education day," Phillips says, recounting the hospital’s various education strategies. "We went to videotapes for a while. This was the next step after videotape, and it’s probably the most compliant everybody has been, because it’s easy, and everybody gets their own copy."
The newsletter includes information on a range of mandatory competencies, including fire safety, dealing with hazardous chemicals and compressed gas cylinders, age-specific care, confidentiality issues, control of bloodborne pathogens, and back safety. An employee from Phillips’ office coordinates production with the hospital’s safety officer, including input from team of representatives from various departments. An on-staff graphic designer helps produce the publication.
Attached tests that are filled out and returned meet the necessary requirements of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Within each department in the hospital, someone is designated to distribute the newsletters and document that everyone has been tested on the information.
Live presentations still are necessary for topics requiring demonstrations or so staff can ask questions. "The key thing is, this is not the be-all, end-all. This is one piece of it. You need to work it into your whole competency program," Phillips says.
The approach was so successful, the VNA has picked it up and adapted it for its own use, Mitman says. "We did it just in sheer frustration of trying to get staff in to fulfill the mandatories in an environment where minutes are precious. When I saw Deb’s newsletter, I thought, Gee, we could make that.’"
The agency produces one training newsletter a year, in addition to regular staff newsletters that go out with paychecks. Called Essentials for Home Care, it uses some of the St. Luke’s articles, adapted for a home care environment. Other topics particular to home care, such as automobile safety, are added. "As far as manpower hours, I would just write up the articles and had a clerical person put the bells and whistles on it so that it looked nice," Mitman says. She says the publication is produced using Microsoft Publisher and printed on the agency’s own copy machine.
This year, in addition to the newsletter on the standard mandatory competencies, a second edition will go out looking at corporate compliance issues such as conflicts of interest, confidentiality, and ethics. "There was too much to put it all in one," Mitman says.
The VNA also plans to tighten the testing procedure, which she says took too long last time. "We’ll give them a month to fill it out and return it. We weren’t as strict last time. We had supervisors collect them and turn them in, and it was a nightmare because everybody is so busy."
Home health aides still must review the material and do the test in a classroom setting because any self-learning modules must be proctored, Mitman says. The human resources department will keep records of the newsletter distribution and testing as part of the employees’ personnel files. She adds that her staff likes the expedited training. "Anything that won’t require them to come in, they’re willing to do," she says.
At St. Luke’s, Phillips says, the newsletters are so popular that staff don’t want to miss a single word. They complained that tearing out the attached post-test removed information from the newsletter they wanted to keep. To solve that problem, Phillips’ assistant changed the publication’s layout. "We work so that when [readers] clip that part out, they don’t lose the newsletter."