Agencies Get Creative to Solve Healthcare Worker Shortage

A tight labor market and low workforce participation rates – leaving many businesses scrambling to hire workers – are hallmarks of the economic landscape of the pandemic era. And no industry is feeling it more than healthcare.

Robin King

“I’ve never seen a time like this,” said Robin King, CEO of CareerSource Flagler Volusia. “I think that the healthcare sector is more significant than the others not only because of [today’s skill gap; in] the future, there [won’t be] enough spots in the schools to train as many as we’ll need.”

King said her agency has worked closely with Halifax Health to attract more people to healthcare professions.

“We worked on a campaign together,” she said. “We did it for all healthcare providers, to create awareness of all the different types of occupations in the industry.”

King said while the shortage of trained nurses is “kind of the face everyone sees” when they are in the hospital or clinic, there [is] a range of career options where the need is high, including orderlies, surgical technicians, phlebotomists and others.

“I think as a result of the virus, we are definitely going to need more respiratory therapists,” she said.

Adding urgency to the need is the demographic realities of Florida, with more retirees moving to the Sunshine State every year.

King said it isn’t just expanded training programs in colleges and universities that are needed but also greater availability of field work opportunities as part of that training.

“All the occupations require an externship and there are only so many places where those can happen,” she said. “If more businesses were involved, that could be a solution.”

King said a change in the perspectives on careers from those just entering the workforce could also help swell the ranks of healthcare workers.

“The next generation of workers wants a purpose and they bring {their own} purpose with them,” she said. “This is the opportunity we have to say to those who want to work with a purpose that there is no place you can work with more purpose than healthcare.”

King said the long-term solution to the healthcare worker shortage “is not a one size fits all” proposition.

“We have to meet each person where they are at and help them take their next step,” she said. And that means trying new ideas and looking for different solutions.

“It is a multi-pronged approach to all these occupations,” she said.

Bruce Ferguson

At CareerSource Northern Florida, CEO Bruce Ferguson said the healthcare worker shortage is not new.

“What the hospitals will tell you is there has been a shortage for a long time, especially in nursing and it is more acute now,” he said.

Ferguson said a partnership between CareerSource and the Baptist Hospital System and Memorial Hospital along with Florida State College at Jacksonville aims to fill the gap by training existing healthcare workers for higher-level positions in the industry.

“What we are seeing is the hospitals are opening up their own internal development programs,” he said. “Helping them with employee retention, the hospitals are investing in their employees and investing in their careers.”

Ferguson said these efforts aren’t new.

“Healthcare has always been one of our targeted industries because there [are] always ripe opportunities for growth,” he said.

Ferguson said the shortage of healthcare workers is not confined to Florida; it is a national issue.

“I don’t think we’re unique in having these challenges,” he said.

But the situation today offers new challenges for the healthcare industry and agencies like CareerSource.

“It is certainly one of the most interesting challenges we’ve ever faced,” Ferguson said. “I’ve been in the workforce development arena for over 25 years and it is by far the most interesting labor market, where we have more available jobs than by definition unemployed individuals. It is certainly the most challenging labor market I have seen in the last 25 years.”

Ferguson said only those people who are jobless and are actively looking for work are counted as unemployed.

“If you haven’t looked for a job in the last 30 days, you are not in the statistics,” he said. “We have a low labor force participation rate.”

Some help may be on the way from Tallahassee as lawmakers look for ways to address the worker shortage through education.

At a hearing late last year of the Florida Senate Committee on Health Policy, Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association told lawmakers the strain on healthcare workers from the pandemic, exacerbated by the emergence of the Delta variant over the summer, contributed to a turnover rate of 25% among nurses in Florida.

She said a recent study released by the Association calculated a shortage of nearly 60,000 nurses in the state by 2035.

Mayhew said the place to start in addressing the shortage is to look at Florida’s nursing education programs.

“What is the capacity in our education system?” she said. “How many nursing grads do we typically hire and how many do they need?”

Mayhew said lawmakers and healthcare industry officials need to work together to find solutions.

“We all need to look creatively at ways to support those nursing programs,” she said.