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Beating the workforce shortage

Healthcare organizations are planning ahead for fierce competition for qualified employees

David Weldon, Contributor

The healthcare field is the fastest growing job sector in the United States according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and this is expected to result in shortages. Savvy healthcare organizations are turning to labor forecasting and workforce planning strategies.

“The U.S. healthcare system faces growing challenges. The U.S. population is aging at a rapid rate; healthcare reform is expected to bring millions more patients into the system; and there are anticipated shortages in numbers of trained healthcare professionals to care for these patients. Therefore, the need to start now to develop more effective and efficient workforce planning models for healthcare organizations is critical,” a spokesperson for the American Hospital Association told Healthcare Finance News.

In the decade leading to 2020, of the 30 occupations expected to see the most employment growth, nine are in healthcare, the BLS has reported. Job areas that will be especially hard to fill, the agency has said, include personal care aides, nursing aides, medical secretaries, licensed practical nurses and medical assistants.

[See also: Primary care workforce shortage: some more solutions.]

With this in mind, administrators at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville are bracing for increased competition for healthcare professionals by placing greater emphasis on workforce planning and labor forecasting.

UVA Medical Center faces strong competition for healthcare staff in all areas from the region’s two larger cities – Washington D.C. and Richmond – said John Boswell, chief of human resources at the medical center. So, part of its strategy is hiring the “right” workers, and retaining existing staff.

Given the competitive environment it is in, the health system is engaging a workforce consultant to help it conduct labor forecasting and workforce planning. The effort involves tying the business plan to the medical plan to ensure the budget each year will cover new staffing needs.

The medical center is also doing longer term workforce planning than it is accustomed to, Boswell said, looking four to five years out for the first time, and casting a wider recruiting net by using resources beyond job boards, job fairs and its own website to find candidates.

For instance, UVA Medical Center finds itself scouting out other regions of the country where layoffs have been announced and marketing itself to newly-out-of-work nurses and support staff. Its part of the new larger strategy of leaving no stone unturned when it comes to finding desperately needed healthcare workers.

“We have to get good at forecasting what we need now, two years from now, five years from now,” Boswell said. “We need to be able to find the right people, at the proper time, in the right place.”