Care crunch

Organizations struggle to fill nursing, support roles

Posted on Mar 28, 2019 :: Health Care
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

In many clinics, hospitals and nursing homes, nurses serve as the front line in providing patient care, but many organizations face challenges filling those roles, and studies show the problem will only worsen.

Scott Anderson, dean of health sciences and education at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, says he sees the shortage of nurses and certified nursing assistants continuing to grow.

“It’s big and from a lot of data out there, it’s only going to accelerate,” he says. “We’ve known for a long time that our population in Wisconsin, especially Northeast Wisconsin and rural areas, is getting older. We also know that the health care workforce … is getting older. It’s just causing almost this perfect storm of increased demand and need and fewer young people that are there to replace the retirements in the workforce.”

Anderson says he sees an especially acute need to fill CNA roles, with 20 percent of jobs remaining unfilled. The low unemployment rate contributes to the problem. In addition, the pay for CNAs can be relatively low, and similar-paying jobs with less stress and with less required training are readily available, he says.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association’s 2018 Health Care Workforce Report stated, “health care is experiencing unprecedented changes and perhaps the perfect proverbial workforce storm.” Among the findings: Wisconsin’s population of people 65 and older is on track to double by 2030, creating an increased demand for health care. With this comes an aging workforce. Rural areas are especially vulnerable, the report found.

To address shortages, NWTC has partnered with WisCaregiver, a nursing aide program through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that provides free training, testing and a $500 bonus for students. Those completing the program must enter it with the intent to go to work right after the program, Anderson says.

The program covers all expenses including books, uniforms, supplies and tuition. Employers such as nursing homes partner as well, and after six months on the job, nursing aides receive the $500 bonus.

NWTC also partners with more than 20 Northeast Wisconsin high schools to offer nursing assistant training. All Green Bay high schools participate as well as schools in Door County and other rural districts.

“Our goal in filling the nursing pipeline is to get students interested very early and also make the pathway to college one that’s easier, that they come to us with credits and when they start, they’ve already made progress,” Anderson says.

Filling the pipeline comes as good news to health care organizations looking to hire.

Samantha Tonn, senior vice president of human resources and risk management for Prevea Health, says her organization has the greatest need for certified medical assistants and licensed practical nurses. These roles are vital, as CMAs and LPNs work closely with both patients and physicians.

Green Bay-based Prevea has seen substantial growth, making it difficult to keep up with staffing needs in these areas, she says. In addition, the local market is competitive when it comes to hiring for these roles, and the CNA or LPN role may serve as one stepping stone in a career progression.

“They’re not necessarily staying in those entry-level roles very long,” she says. “They’re looking to continue the growth for themselves, so we need to anticipate that.”

ThedaCare is always seeking nurses, CMAs and CNAs as well as people to work as registrars and in its dietary services area, says Maggie Lund, chief human resources officer for the organization.

Fewer people are going into nursing than in the past, Lund says. In addition, health care organizations increasingly compete against other industries for talent. For example, colleges, universities, K-12 schools and free-standing clinics also employ nurses, and those working in dietary services also could work in hotel or restaurant roles, she says.

Nurses are vital to ThedaCare, Lund says. “The patient is at the center of everything we do, so the most important person is the patient. Nurses, not only how they provide the technical care, but their attitude and how they interact with patients, make all the difference in the world,” she says.

ThedaCare partners with Fox Valley Technical College to offer a CMA program, and it’s looking to roll out a CNA program in the future. Eighteen ThedaCare employees are participating in the CMA program, including many from its dietary services area, providing them a chance to advance their career, Lund says.

With 76 million baby boomers retiring or preparing to and 21 million fewer people in Generation X, the industry faces a “double whammy” in terms of employment, Lund says. Further complicating matters, ThedaCare is working to balance the preferences of older workers, who enjoy longer tenures, and the growing group of younger gig workers, who tend to stay in roles for shorter time periods.

To meet this need, the organization works to accommodate employees’ scheduling demands while balancing those against ThedaCare’s needs, offering “any combination imaginable for FTEs.” It also focuses on workplace wellness, providing services such as massages and financial wellness offerings.

Talent shortages can increase stressors that can hurt morale and employee retention efforts. Prevea’s Tonn says focusing on care provider wellness is part of creating a positive patient experience. The organization uses a team care model that reduces stress and streamlines processes. It also offers flexibility, part-time employment options and mentoring.

As it looks toward the future, Tonn says Prevea is preparing for the next generation of workers — it recently added a role that’s focused on developing the talent pipeline and working with schools — as well as ensuring succession planning is in place.

“In health care, it’s extremely important that we have a seamless transition of care when we have individuals that leave our organization. We want to make sure that we are recruiting people to retire but knowing that our customer, as our patient, will feel that change if we’re transitioning who has been providing their care for quite some time,” she says.

Talent needs also affect home care

The health care talent shortage also touches the home health care industry. Kari Meixl, director of operations for Appleton-based PRN Home Health and Therapy, says her organization most needs registered nurses and physical and occupational therapists, and especially those with home health experience.

The company provides skilled home health care to 10 counties across Northeast Wisconsin in home settings including residential, assisted living and retirement communities. Services typically are short-term, for no more than 30 to 60 days, and patients include those who are transitioning out of a hospital or nursing home.

The aging population is a big factor for home health care. “More baby boomers are coming to the age in which they’re going to be needing services like this, so it is a growth industry,” Meixl says. “I think that, coupled with the fact that … hospital stays are getting shorter and shorter … the need to have that continuum of care … is becoming more and more important.”


On the web

To read the full WHA Wisconsin 2018 Health Care Workforce Report:

To learn more about WisCaregiver: