Flex work program lets nurses take summers off

Very soon some nurses will be celebrating the Fourth of July all summer long, with a flexible work arrangement aimed at giving them the entire summer off.

Mercy Children's hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, is testing a new seasonal staffing program for the pediatric unit.

Nurses who qualify will work full-time from September to May -- three shifts a week for nine months -- and then can take the summer off, while keeping their full-time benefits.

Behind the move is a slowdown in patients during the summer months that means fewer nurses are needed.

"Kids often get sick more frequently during that winter, fall time. And then during the summer, there is less illness, less disease, so our numbers significantly drop, during the summer," Mercy Pediatric Nurse Manager Justin Travis told KOTV in an interview.

"Coming back to the unit, after having 3 months  off, doing whatever they want to do, the excitement they are going to have, the rejuvenation for their practice, maybe having a new spark, interest, excitement for nursing," Travis said.

The seasonal staff will receive a stipend every two weeks to help cover insurance costs and can use any accrued paid time off to pay themselves during the summer. They can also choose to pick up additional shifts at the hospital.

The contract year would start in September 2018, meaning their first summer off would be next year. Mercy leaders said if it works in pediatrics, they may try to expand seasonal staffing to other departments in the future.

And the program could have implications for other hospitals.  Dr. Seun Ross, director of Nursing Practice and Environment at the American Nurses Association told CBS MoneyWatch that creating a better work-life balance is vital for the future of the profession. 

"If it does work at Mercy and evidence is gained it will determine whether other hospitals follow suit," Ross said.

"One of the major complaints of millennials and now the future nurses [Gen Z] is the lack of work-life balance in health care. We've seen a whole host of issues in the workplace like burnout and fatigue."

But she says this program is only one piece of the puzzle, given that the focus is entirely on pediatric nursing. Ross would like to see more flexibility at work across the board. 

"There wouldn't be a nurse, at least one I know, who wouldn't jump at this."