Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville has started the process of removing licensed practical nurses from patient care roles by 2022.
About two dozen LPNs will be affected by the change, and the system is offering employees scholarships to continue their education and become registered nurses in the next five years.
The nurses, who now care for patients post-surgery in acute care roles, will also have the opportunity to work in long-term care, outpatient departments and clinics, according to Chief Nursing Officer Brenda Simpson.
Licensed practical nurses fall between certified nursing assistants and registered nurses, requiring one to two years of training. The scope of their responsibilities varies by state, but in Georgia they can provide a wide range of care to patients under the supervision of a registered nurse or a doctor.
“We’ve already had personal meetings with nurses in each of those positions, and we’re working to support their career plans,” Simpson said in a statement provided to The Times on Tuesday.
For most LPNs, the transition will mean they’ll get a break on tuition or a chance to do something different within the system.
Simpson noted that no positions are being eliminated. The hospital is “working to evolve our nursing skill mix” with the intent of improving patient outcomes within the hospital, she said.
But for Rachel Garland, it’s the premature end of a 30-year career with the hospital.
“Every once in a while it comes up: The hospital is going to get rid of LPNs,” Garland told The Times. “They’re going to go to all RNs. I’ve heard the talk; for as long as I’ve been there I’ve heard the talk, but it’s never truly been put to paper.”
Now the time has come, and time’s up for Garland. In early May, the system broke the news to LPNs working in bedside patient care that they would need to continue their education, transition into new positions or lose their jobs by 2022.
Garland said the small nursing staff in her pediatrics unit put her role in limbo much sooner than other nurses. On some shifts, she’s one of two nurses on the clock, the other being an RN.
On May 11, she was informed by hospital management that her last day would be June 11 — then only a month away. After protesting the early date, her final day has been pushed to the fall.
“Obviously I was upset, because the rug’s been pulled out from under me,” she said. “There goes my benefits, my job of 30 years.”
Garland could return to school, but at 53 years old and with 30 years on the job, she said she doesn’t have the passion required to be a student and that she hoped to finish her career in pediatrics as an LPN.
It’s been more than a job for the longtime nurse. With almost all of her family in Tennessee, Garland said she found in her co-workers the strength to survive her husband’s death and her father’s death — both died in 2016.
“We’re such a small unit, it’s like a family,” she said. “We’ve gone through miscarriages, divorces, births, deaths. … Without my work family, I just would not have survived my husband’s death. I just would not have survived.”
The outgoing nurse has gotten to know more than just her co-workers — she knows the hospital.
She got to know it first as a housekeeper in the 1980s — a job she enjoyed but that she outgrew.
“You get your foot in the door, and I said I want to do more,” Garland said. “... I became a CNA, then I became a secretary.”
She went to school to become an LPN while working weekends as a secretary in surgery and caring for two children. After earning her license, she spent her years leading up to pediatrics working as a roving nurse — filling in on different units that were short nurses any particular day. It had her working all over the hospital, from cardiology to intensive care.
For the past 10 years, she’s been in the pediatrics unit.
“That’s my life, and they’re basically just taking my life away,” Garland said.
Now on her way out, Garland said she thinks the hospital is making a mistake replacing LPNs with RNs — which require more than twice the training and higher pay.
From the Northeast Georgia Health System’s perspective, the hospital is growing and responding to the needs of Gainesville, which continues to see its population and role as a health care hub expand.
“We are an organization that is growing to meet the increasing needs of our community,” Simpson said. “With this growth, it is necessary at intervals to re-evaluate organizational patient need and realign the skill mix of our direct care nursing staff.”