The COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of patients requiring intensive care nation-wide, leading to nurse staffing shortages in many units.

Local Problem

At the beginning of the statewide COVID-19 surge, a tertiary teaching hospital in the upper Midwest experienced a sharp increase in patients needing intensive care. To relieve the resulting staffing shortage, it implemented a pilot program to bring general care nurses into its 21-bed mixed specialty intensive care unit to free intensive care unit nurses to help staff the hospital’s COVID-designated units.


Using a team nursing model, the intensive care unit recruited, oriented, and incorporated 13 general care nurses within 4 days. Education and resources were developed to distinguish team nurses from intensive care unit nurses, introduce them to the intensive care unit environment, outline expectations, communicate between team nursing pairs, and guide charge nurses in making staffing decisions and assignments. Staff feedback identified additional resources, barriers, and successes. An adaptive process was used to improve and update tools and resources on the basis of staff needs.


The pilot program ran for 6 weeks. Positive outcomes included a reduced need for float nurses and self-perceived reduction in nursing workload. The principal barrier was charge nurses’ challenges involving staffing-to-workload balance based on the existing staffing model. This model identified productivity of a general care nurse and an intensive care unit nurse as equivalent, despite differences in their skill sets.


Team nursing in the intensive care unit is an agile tactic easily replicated in dire staffing situations.

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