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Seasons Magazines

Middlesex Health Provides Excellence in Nursing

Middlesex Health - Kelly Haeckel

Being a nurse is hard work! It is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. Nurses are the care providers that patients interact with most frequently; in many health systems, nurses make up the largest workforce of all professions employed.

“Nursing at Middlesex Health is different than nursing anywhere else. We are well-respected, well-regarded professionals that help to truly pave the path of how we practice. Nurses at Middlesex Health have a voice and their partnerships with our medical staff are exceptionally strong. They practice with autonomy,” said Kelly Haeckel, RN, MSN, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Middlesex Health since 2019. These are some of the ingredients for what Haeckel called, “our Middlesex secret sauce.”

According to Middlesex Health’s 2021 annual nursing report, 818 registered nurses and 84 advance practice nurses (APRN) were employed across the system. Middlesex Health is very proud of its nurses. Seventy-nine percent of its registered nurses have obtained their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree, including 12 individuals who also obtained their doctoral degree. Although the organization hires primarily BSN-level nurses, it may hire nurses with associate degrees and other work experience. The organization has positioned itself to pay 100% of the cost of attaining a BSN for those nurses. Half of the nursing staff also possess some form of additional specialty certification, such as hospice and palliative care, wound care management, or congestive heart failure care.

Middlesex Health’s mission is to provide the safest, highest quality, evidence-based health care and the best experience possible to the community. It aims to provide this care with warmth and personal attention. The Department of Nursing’s mission and vision align with this to make a difference for its patients and community. As professional nurses, they aspire to promote collaborative practice that embraces innovation across the continuum resulting in excellent outcomes for patients. The department’s strategic plan, a road map developed to guide practice in two-year increments, strives not only to meet but to outperform national quality indicator benchmarks, including those in patient satisfaction and employee satisfaction.

As part of its commitment to nursing excellence, Middlesex Health restructured its professional governance system in 2021. The effort was led by nurses. The health system’s professional governance structure now consists of four councils in which nurses can actively influence the direction of nursing and patient care.

A professional or shared governance model which, according to the independent educational nursing resource, is, “a professional practice model that promotes shared decision-making and nursing empowerment by making nurses accountable for decisions impacting processes, policies and procedures at the point of patient care. The nurse’s role in professional governance is to utilize clinical expertise and knowledge to help find solutions to problems or issues within their department or organization, acting as part of a council or team.” Nursing professional governance structures empower clinical nurses to contribute, collaborate and have a voice regarding their nursing practice environment. This restructuring of Middlesex Health’s councils embraces the health system’s nursing practice model, CARE That Makes a Difference.

“The culture at Middlesex Health is palpable,” noted Haeckel. “It is a diverse and collaborative professional family. We watch out for one another. We advocate for one another, encourage participation in the organization’s wellness programs, and always do our best to sustain a more equitable and inclusive organization. Leaders really support all staff members. They build relationships and rapport with their staff.” Haeckel attributed some of this attitude to the fact that Middlesex Health is a large organization, but still smaller than many other healthcare systems in Connecticut. It is one of the few remaining independent health systems in the state.

Also, Middlesex Health is a five-time Magnet organization. Middlesex Hospital was the first hospital in Connecticut to achieve this recognition in 2001. Magnet status recognizes an institution for its commitment to nursing excellence, quality and innovation. It is awarded by the American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC) for a four-year period.

“Magnet status is greater than a nursing award,” Haeckel noted. “It equates to not only nursing excellence, but organizational excellence.” Middlesex Health anticipates achieving Magnet status for a sixth time, which will make it one of fewer than 20 hospitals worldwide to reach this milestone.

Not only have Middlesex Health nurses received professional honors such as the Magnet recognition, but several have also been nominated for honors by their own patients. The DAISY Award, another way nurses are honored at Middlesex Health, is an international recognition program from patients that honors and celebrates the skillful, compassionate care nurses provide every day. Middlesex Health nurses are nominated by Middlesex Health patients and their families. The awards are bestowed by the DAISY Foundation, which was established by the family of a patient who died from complications of an autoimmune disease because they so appreciated the compassionate care provided by his nurses.

Middlesex Health is not immune to the challenges that health systems throughout the country currently face, such as a national shortage of nurses and the COVID-19 pandemic. It, however, believes that it is well-positioned to weather the storm—and an enticing option for nurses looking for employment.

The nursing shortage preceded the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, though that worsened it, explained Haeckel. Many factors contributed to the nursing shortage. The United States has an aging population which means more people need care just as many nurses are reaching retirement age. There is also a shortage of nursing faculty to teach and college students have many more career options than they did in the past, resulting in a smaller pool of students for nursing. Within nursing, there are many opportunities for work beyond direct patient care, which also depletes the pool of potential bedside nurses.

The pandemic has been extremely challenging for all health care workers, including nurses. The conditions have been a test of their strength and resilience. The nurses have worked day in and day out to provide compassionate high-quality care regardless of the circumstances.

To attract and retain their nursing personnel, Middlesex Health prides itself on the support they provide to their nurses. This support comes in many forms:

  • It offers a very robust nursing residency program for new BSN-level graduates. It is a one-year program that includes 12 weeks of one-to-one mentoring. Its purpose is to support new graduates in their transition to practice. The residency is accredited by ANCC. There have been roughly 33 residents each year for the last 5 years.
  • Nurses who are hired with previous experience receive tailored and independent onboarding and an orientation dependent upon their past experience and existing skill set.
  • At some hospitals, nurses are required to start on medical surgical floors before being eligible to work in specialty units such as the emergency department, critical care units, operating room, or labor and delivery. However, nurses at Middlesex Health may start their tenure in these specialty tracks.
  • It offers a nursing career ladder and helps individuals customize how they’d like to grow within the organization.
  • It fosters an environment of professional growth and development for nurses (and all employees) providing tuition reimbursement, numerous free continuing education program offerings, support to attend conferences, strong mentorship and financial support for certification exams.

Haeckel experienced this support first hand. She is a Connecticut native and graduated from the UConn School of Nursing with a BSN degree. She chose to start her career at Middlesex Health because she knew the health system would help her transition into nursing practice in a supportive way. It is also why she has stayed with the organization. She has been a bedside nurse in the areas of orthopedics, general surgery, medicine and intravenous therapy. Along the way, she completed her master’s in nursing (MSN) with a focus in patient care service systems administration at UConn. The progressive nursing structure has helped her grow into her current leadership role.

Middlesex Health considers its employees to be its greatest resource. Each employee’s role is as important as the next regardless of the type of work they do, and it takes everyone working together with mutual respect to provide excellent care. Haeckel believes the health system earns accolades and awards because of the frontline workers throughout the organization who do the day-to-day work and because of the organization’s collaborative environment. Middlesex Health has also received recognition by its own employees in the form of a Top Workplaces 2022 honor by the Hartford Courant for the sixth year in a row. It’s also considered one of the top 100 workplaces in the country.


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