Across the Albany Med Health System, Steps are Being Taken to Overcome Critical Challenges

In the face of unprecedented challenges facing hospitals nationwide, the Albany Med Health System is using collaboration, continued integration of services, and innovation to preserve the high level of care and services currently available right here in our region.

Challenges include a significant shortage of nurses and other clinical staff, the exorbitant cost of agency nurses to help fill gaps, and ever-increasing costs of operations.

Guided by its mission to improve health through gold standards in quality of care, education, and research—all delivered by local people, for local people—System leadership and staff are focusing on complex challenges in three specific areas.

While addressing these immediate challenges, a key priority is to ensure that these strategies align with the long-term System vision to elevate the level of care for our patients.

Access to Care

For many patients, the entry point to care at a hospital is through the emergency room. As the number of patients seeking care in these locations continues to increase, so too does the need to ensure that patients are not only receiving the care they seek, but the best care available. That’s meant the involvement of both traditional and non-traditional approaches when it comes to operations.

“We are using new models to meet the demand that the public has for care,” said Ashley Telisky, DO, vice chair for Emergency Department System integration.

Dr. Telisky points to the collaborations that are occurring within System hospitals—including continued discussion between the hospitals of what’s happening on the ground at each and mitigation strategies that can be used to elevate the level of patient care. At Albany Medical Center, for example, the reintroduction of a program that allows trained paramedics to work in the Emergency Department has allowed for more medical professionals to assist in various capacities during busy times.

Along with sharing strategies among each hospital, the strength of the Albany Med Health System allows for patients to receive similar, specialized care at four hospitals due to the elevation of the level of care throughout the System.

“We’re able to, in a better way, get our patients to the end point they need,” said Doug Girling, DO, co-chair of the Glens Falls Hospital Emergency Department. “By increasing access to care with the support of resources across the System, that’s going to improve the quality of care and allow us to coordinate care more efficiently.”

Length of Stay in the Hospital

Another area of focus is what’s known as length of stay—the amount of time a patient stays in the hospital. Work is underway to determine the best and most efficient ways to discharge patients who are ready to return home or to another location to receive care.

Striking just the right balance between consistency in quality of care and efficiencies in processes that can get patients home is not easy. At Albany Medical Center, a committee is making inroads in these efforts and is already seeing the benefits.

“We are engaging our teams across various service lines,” said Peter Paige, MD, executive vice president and hospital general director. “Individual teams are brainstorming with us and coming up with detailed plans. We’re identifying opportunities that are sending trends the right way.”

Dr. Paige says this work is focusing on busy clinical areas—he points to neurology and trauma as examples—and on taking a 360-degree approach to involve all who play a role in a patient’s treatment. He says multidisciplinary groups involving everyone from physicians and nurses to social work, case management and pharmacy staff are identifying bottlenecks in the path to care, and how to address them.

For example, Dr. Paige says they’ve incorporated physical therapy (PT) staff into these conversations to discuss how to best improve efficiencies in their workflow to ensure they are able to see patients in a timely manner. The goal is to ensure clinical teams are working together and included in these planning discussions of how to best support patients in a timely manner during their hospital stay.

Dr. Paige says a significant boost to these efforts is the continuing work of the Care One project—the System-wide effort to implement a unified electronic medical record and enterprise resource planning process across each organization.

Dr. Paige, who started in his role in May 2022, says there are still areas where the System can evolve and improve, but adds that each hospital is going through that process while, at the same time, solving problems and strengthening the System.

“We’re trying to be creative and innovative to strengthen the System, but we understand there are going to be roadblocks, and priorities that come up along the way,” Dr. Paige said. “I think people are seeing more of our vision each day. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are actively putting strategies in place that will shape our future success.”

Recruit and Retain

Staffing shortages across most major sectors became a problem during the Covid-19 pandemic, including in the health care industry. This has led to aggressive recruitment efforts and strategies, from the use of referral and sign-on bonuses in areas with the most acute needs to solidifying partnerships with universities and colleges.

For example, the System recently partnered with Russell Sage College bringing Sage nursing students in to complete their clinical assignments at Albany Med Health System campuses, while current System employees will receive a discount to attend graduate nursing programs at Sage. Following their direct clinical experience, students are encouraged to explore job opportunities within the System. The agreement also facilitates an RN-bachelor of science program at Russell Sage tailored to Albany Med Health System employees, and it also supports laboratory professionals and clinical faculty members.

Recruitment and retention efforts are fueling new conversations between human resources departments at each hospital to discuss staffing levels, trends within the industry, and best practices.

“The staffing situation is a significant challenge across the entire health care industry,” said Bryanna Scali, vice president of human resources at Columbia Memorial Health. “Each hospital across the System is working every day to maintain a compassionate, supported, and strong workforce.”

Staying competitive in the job market means analysis of pay and benefits, offering employees resources that allow them to grow in their careers and into advanced roles, and communicating these efforts in a clear and concise way.