SPRINGFIELD –Joanne Miller, a 30-year leader in nursing health care, returned to her New England roots last July when she was named interim chief nursing officer for Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.
Later this month, the Waterbury, Connecticut, native will become Baystate Health’s chief nursing executive, a new position for the Baystate system, as well as the medical center’s chief nursing officer on a permanent basis.
“It is a common model for small- to medium-sized health care systems where the chief nursing executive of the system is also the chief nursing officer for the flagship hospital,” Miller explained. “The advantage here is to brand a Baystate nurse and convey that regardless of where a patient enters any one of our facilities on any of our campuses, the patient can expect the same level of professional practice from the nurse.”
Miller’s appointment follows a nationwide search for candidates and the announcement coincides with National Nurses Week that began on Friday.
Baystate’s nurses are certified as among the best in the country, Miller said, praising their dedication even as health care systems nationwide struggle with staffing shortages.
“We all read about the Great Resignation, but there is also the Great Dedication and those are the nurses who would not dream of leaving nursing right now because they see the impact we have had and what we have been able to do through the pandemic, Miller said. “We know we have a lot more to give.”
Miller acknowledges that any accolades around National Nurses Week are a “far cry” to what needs to “be baked into a culture of an organization that truly appreciates and values their nurses.” She called Baystate “very advanced” in helping its clinicians heal from the stresses of the last two years with initiatives that include support for training in holistic health nursing that centers on self-care first and creation of quiet rooms for staff.
“We need to hard-wire tactics that help our workforce with moving resilience and make sure we provide emotional support to help them to recover from a really challenging set of circumstances,” Miller said. “Our clinicians made tremendous sacrifices during the pandemic and we as leaders need to help them get their strength back.”
She stressed the importance of leadership supporting breaks throughout a shift, “meaningful” recognition on an ongoing basis to make staff feel appreciated and valued, an environment of courtesy and respect as well as staff having access to confidentiality counseling, behavioral health benefits and wellness reimbursement .
Baystate is re-evaluating compensation and competitive wages to retain nurses as well as sign on new ones, according to Miller. In addition, the health system is further developing its “entry-level pipeline of nurses” through early hire of student nurses for its apprenticeship program, she said.
Miller sees the mentoring of young nurses as “mission-critical” in terms of being able to replace a workforce where the median age of registered nurses in the country is 52.
“Right now, we have multiple generations of nurses with staff ranging in age from 21 into their mid-70s,” Miller said. “They want and need and deserve different things. As leaders we need to have generational competencies and listen to understand and meet the nurses where they are in their careers.”
Helping younger nurses develop critical thinking skills for best patient outcomes as well as better self-care for themselves, she noted, are among critical factors needed to ensure safety in the workplace for all staff.
“Workplace violence has increased since the beginning of the pandemic,” Miller said, referencing a rise in health care settings of abusive patient behavior. “Hospital leaders, physicians and nurses across the country are concerned and leaders are responding in kind. This is a complex situation that requires a multi-modal approach.”
Several dozen Baystate nurses attended a nine-month program of the Integrative Healing Arts Academy at the BirchTree Center for Healthcare Transformation in Northampton that focused on the importance of self-care in delivering compassion-centered care to others, she cited as an example of how Baystate is addressing current workplace issues.
“Workplace stress caused by emotional exhaustion and career dissatisfaction is a hazardous occupational risk resulting in high turnover rates,” Miller said. “Fatigue and burnout adversely affect joy in the delivery of health care. Building a new generation of nurses that are keenly aware of this phenomenon is key.”
“My motto is love up our nurses,” Miller said.
The appointment for Miller at Baystate is similar to positions she held on a co-interim basis at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida. Prior to coming to Baystate, she served as chief nursing executive at Carson Tahoe Health System in Nevada. Her 20 years of experience as a chief nursing officer also included time at hospitals in Connecticut, the Philadelphia area and in New York City.
“I am a big thinker, I am a systems thinker and always have been,” said Miller who has a doctorate in nursing practice with a concentration in executive leadership and nursing research from Drexel University. “I realized the value of being a chief nursing officer. I have the ability to impact a lot more nurses from novice to expert.”
Miller cites her time at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine and where she served as vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer from 2014 through 2018, as especially impactful on her career.
“The laser focus on safety quality and patient experience at Johns Hopkins Medicine-Sibley Memorial really ignited all my passions,” Miller said. “It was the collaboration, the shared learning and the methodologies for excellence, that was truly invigorating and that’s where I learned the science behind safety.”
Miller’s early career was as an oncology nurse. One of her earliest administrative positions was as director of oncology and cardiology service lines at Hartford HealthCare Corp.’s Midstate Medical Center in Meriden.
She earned her nursing degree from Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York, and has a master’s degree in nursing administration from the University of Hartford.
Growing up in a multigenerational family home contributed to being in a profession that she said found her.
“I had very close family members who were very sick and suffered greatly and we took care of them at home,” Miller said. “That is why I feel nursing chose me because I was always helping people to heal.”
Married for 37 years and the mother of two sons, Miller likes that Baystate, even in being a larger academic medical center, “feels like a family” and also “feels right” for her in its commitment to “the people who live here. ”
“The health care teams are very dedicated to each other and the organization culturally is very committed to the community colleges and universities and to the people who live here,” Miller said. “Baystate is very dedicated to the health and wellness of the community and just feels right to me.”
She calls Baystate’s nursing staff “truly some of the best bedside nurses and some of the most dynamic and innovative nursing leaders that I ever had the privilege of working side-by-side with and of leading.”
“The nurses at Baystate Medical deliver high-quality care,” Miller said. “We have been designated as a four-time magnet organization by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Only 6% of hospitals in the country have this magnet design for their nursing care, and only 1% have been re-designated a fourth time.”