NORTH CONWAY, NH -- Some could say this was a role that Registered Nurse Kris Dascoulias was born to take on. Born at Memorial Hospital, Dascoulias can now add Chief Nursing Officer to her resume, after working at the hospital in many roles over 25 years, most recently as the Clinical Manager for the hospital’s Family Birthing Center.
The Chief Nursing Officer is responsible for overseeing all nursing managers and nursing staff – over 120 nurses overall at the hospital. Dascoulias explained, “I want to be an advocate for the nurses and be that voice for them and represent them at the highest level.”
She explained that her focus, and that of new President Art Mathisen, is ensuring that quality patient care always comes first. “It’s challenging being a nurse at the bedside. We are always trying to balance staffing with the needs of patient care. This is how I led the Family Birthing Center. If I have to jump in, I jump in - the priority is taking care of the patient. Our nursing managers are helping out clinically. They come to work in scrubs so they are ready if need be. We want to provide the highest level of nursing care every day.”
With nursing staffing levels being a challenge at many hospitals, especially rural ones such as Memorial, Dascoulias recounted efforts being taken to address hiring and retaining nursing staff.
“We are focusing on recruitment. We recently did an open house and made a few successful hires. We have a great new recruiter in place, doing job fairs, getting our name out there, promoting us.”
Dascoulias shared that Memorial Hospital’s partnership with MaineHealth is an asset for their recruitment efforts, “Our goal is to work with MaineHealth as this is a national issue. We want to develop a plan to start at the high school level working with students to get them interested in nursing as a career. We are also working with local colleges. We do internships and clinical rotations so we can get them not just in their senior year, but sooner. We want to give them more clinical experience, more exposure to what it’s about. We can help them see what the job really means. Our goal is to work on programs like residencies for new nurses to get them more engaged sooner.”
She cites MaineHealth as a major benefit for her in her new role. “The networking is key. Now I have others I can reach out to with questions. They are going to be helpful to us in recruitment, staffing, and improving retention. We would not be able to do this without them.”
But it’s not just hiring new nurses - it’s keeping the current staff happy and engaged. Retention and burnout is an issue. Dascoulias continued, “We are looking for ways to ensure units are fully staffed. If you don’t have enough help, the staff get stressed and burn out faster. It always comes back to staffing. We are working on creative things like referral bonuses. We are trying to look at improving our clinical ladder program that rewards nurses that go above and beyond, who are involved in programs, policy making and more. It gives them extra rewards for doing the extra work. We are looking at compensation through a market analysis. We have to remain competitive in the market.”
In 2017, the average age of nurses nationwide was 51. One commonly cited factor behind the difficult recruiting environment for nurses has been the “silver tsunami” of aging talent. In other words, on average, nurses are getting older and either retiring (removing much-needed talent from the workforce) or looking to scale back their hours. With this in mind, Dascoulias is focusing on this age group and how to retain them.
“How do you keep the 40, 50 and 60 year olds engaged? We want them to feel valued and recognized; we want to demonstrate our appreciation of their contributions. Flexible work schedules are important as is work/life balance to decrease stress levels. We want to teach new staff and be mentors. To do so, we need to appreciate and utilize the experienced nurses to grow the next generation.”
And younger nurses have their own unique needs. “We need to address how to deal with the next generation. Life first, then work - that’s their focus. It’s a hot topic. We just added a new parental leave benefit that will be popular long term. The nursing department is open to how to make this work.”
Despite the many challenges and opportunities, Kris is upbeat about the nursing care at Memorial, clearly in it for the long run. She graduated from Kennett High, then went to Colby Sawyer College in New London, NH where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. She is working towards a Masters degree in Nursing.
Kris has deep roots in the Valley and was the First Baby born at Memorial Hospital in 1972. Her parents are Henry Willey and Jean Tiney, both still living locally. She has been working at Memorial since 1994, starting right after college.
“I thought I would stay a few months and move on to a larger hospital setting like those in Boston or to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where I had done clinical rotations; but I got a job here and fell in love with it. Everyone was so good to me. I realized I liked being in my own community and taking care of people I knew. You’d see them a few weeks later feeling better and they’d appreciate that you helped them. They remember the care you gave them. That changed my thoughts. Then I met my husband and started a family and realized I didn’t want to leave. It’s a great place to be. I realized the value of working in and helping my own community.”
For more information about nursing careers at Memorial Hospital, visit them online at www.memorialhospitalnh.org/jobs.