I’ve read about Gov. LePage’s executive order to cover the costs of four bills passed over his objections. One of these bills – L.D. 1645 – seeks to give almost $2 million in salary increases to select staff at both of the state psychiatric facilities. Although salary increases for hardworking staff are paramount to retention and recruitment efforts, so too is treating staff professionally and with dignity and respect.

During my very brief tenure at Riverview Psychiatric Center as their eighth director of nursing in eight years, I was keenly aware that the retention and recruitment efforts were not focused on an environment that fosters a culture of safety among staff.

It’s essential to an organization’s retention and recruitment efforts that leadership at all levels develop a compassionate and healthy work environment. Unfortunately, what I experienced firsthand was an organizational culture and climate based on violence and hostility within the department of nursing as well as between nursing and other departments.

I observed very little support for the profession of nursing from senior leadership at Riverview, as exemplified by the turnover in nursing directors, the lack of nursing leadership at all levels upon my arrival last fall and the lack of participation by top officials in National Nurses Day and Nurses Week activities in May.

In 2007, The Joint Commission (a major accreditation organization) acknowledged that unresolved conflict and disruptive behavior can impair safety and quality of care. Furthermore, The Joint Commission stated in 2013: “Failing to develop a culture of safety and quality is one of the biggest mistakes hospitals make because the culture forms the foundation of all activities, including those examined by surveyors. Without leadership support and staff engagement in a culture that focuses on safety and quality, hospitals are more likely to either be deficient in certain standards or meet the letter of the law without accepting the full meaning of the standard, which can ultimately jeopardize safety.”

Dollars and cents alone cannot and should not define a successful workplace. To shed light on this phenomenon, the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee may want to approve spending money to hire a consultant specializing in organizational culture. Retention and recruitment efforts will never be successful, despite salary increases, if the disruptive behaviors at Riverview are allowed to continue.

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