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Is Your Work Environment Healthy?

Created Aug 04 2016, 08:00 PM by Lippincott Solutions
  • Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments
  • patient outcomes
  • healthy work environments
  • patient safety
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center
  • Pathway to Excellence
  • quality of care
  • staff retention
  • American Association of Critical-Care Nurses
  • ANCC
  • AACN

Friday, August 5, 2016

Healthy work environments are more than simply enjoyable. Evidence is increasingly linking work environments in healthcare with patient safety, clinical outcomes, staff retention and other quality of care measures.

For nurses and the patients they care for, healthy work environments are a necessity. So why are workplace studies continuing to identify an abundance of clinical environments that are less than the picture of good health?

Call it a sign of the times.

“We know from listening to our more than 100,000 members that the impact of technology and the burden of more regulation and reporting, together with the increasing complexity of patients, add to the challenge of ensuring that work environments are healthy,” said Connie Barden, RN, MSN, CCRN-E, CCNS, chief clinical officer at the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). “As a result, today’s work environments demand even more attention.

“The stakes are high — patients’ lives and nurses’ well-being depend on it.”


In an effort to infuse clinical settings with an understanding of and a desire for better health, AACN recently updated its AACN Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments: A Journey to Excellence. The second edition is 44 pages long and available free on the AACN website.

The new version includes examples of healthy work environments pulled from hospital units that have earned the association’s Beacon Award for Excellence and from participants in the AACN Clinical Scene Investigator Academy nurse leadership and innovation training program.

The original six standards that AACN considers essential for a work environment to be healthy, however, remain unchanged:

  • skilled communication (equal proficiency in communication and clinical skills),
  • true collaboration (relentless pursuit and fostering of true collaboration),
  • effective decision making (valued and committed partners in leading organizational operations),
  • appropriate staffing (effective match between patient needs and nurse competencies),
  • meaningful recognition (authentic acknowledgement of the value each person brings to the work of the organization), and
  • authentic leadership (adoption of the healthy work environment imperative and engagement of others to achieve it).

“These standards confirm that healthy work environments are unquestionably linked to optimal outcomes for patients and their families, nurses and other healthcare professionals and healthcare organizations,” said Karen McQuillan, RN, MS, CNS-BC, CCRN, CNRN, FAAN, AACN president and clinical nurse specialist at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore.

“We must reinvigorate our commitment to creating and sustaining healthy work environments, which are essential for providing courageous care.”


AACN Beacon Award for Excellence recognizes hospital units for exceptional care and positive, supportive, healthy work environments. The Beacon Awards three levels of designation, Gold, Silver, and Bronze, recognize significant milestones along a unit’s journey to excellence. AACN evaluates unit level criteria in the following areas:

  • Leadership Structures and Systems
  • Appropriate Staffing and Staff Engagement
  •  Effective Communication, Knowledge Management, Learning and Development
  • Evidence-based Practices and Processess
  • Outcome Measurement

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers an organization wide Pathway to Excellence designation. Healthcare and long-term care facilities that earn the Pathway to Excellence Award meet 12 practice standards ANCC considers essential for an ideal nursing practice environment:

  • Nurses control the practice of nursing.
  • The work environment is safe and healthy.
  • Systems are in place to address patient care and practice concerns.
  • Orientation prepares nurses for the work environment.
  • The CNO is qualified and participates in all levels of the organization.
  • Professional development is provided and used.
  • Equitable compensation is provided.
  • Nurses are recognized for achievements.
  • A balanced lifestyle is encouraged.
  • Collaborative relationships are valued and supported.
  • Nurse managers are competent and accountable.
  • A quality program and evidence-based practice are used.

In addition to the above, long-term care organizations must also include CNAs in the nursing community, establish educational standards for directors of nursing, have staff education standards about zero tolerance of abuse and neglect as well as policies on the use of restraints and fall prevention, and promote a person-centered model of care.

For nurses seeking out optimal practice environments, an AACN Beacon Award or ANCC Pathway to Excellence designation speaks volumes.

“Nurses trust that Pathway-designated institutions respect their contributions, support professional development and nurture optimal work settings,” ANCC explains on its website.

With the growing body of evidence linking work environments with outcomes and safety, a Pathway to Excellence distinction is no doubt attractive to patients, too.

Is your unit a Beacon Award recipient or your facility ANCC Pathway designated, or on the journey?  Leave us a comment, we’d love to hear from you.