Healthcare leaders participate in workforce solutions roundtable

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Photo Credit: Peshkova

Healthcare providers from across the Commonwealth gathered in Richmond for a meeting with Gov. Ralph Northam and senior members of his Administration to discuss issues related to health care workforce staffing challenges.

The inaugural Health Care Workforce Roundtable meeting at the Governor’s office brought together state officials, hospital and health system leaders, and stakeholders who share a common goal of developing effective strategies to help ensure Virginia has an adequate workforce of trained and licensed health care professionals to meet growing patient needs.

Dr. Michael P. McDermott, the President and CEO of Fredericksburg-based Mary Washington Healthcare and the Chairman of the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association’s (VHHA) Board of Directors, chaired the Health Care Workforce Roundtable meeting.

“Under the leadership of Governor Northam, Virginia has made important gains through Medicaid expansion that has enabled more than 330,000 Virginians to enroll in health care coverage,” said Dr. McDermott. “As a fellow physician, Governor Northam appreciates the fact that coverage access is an important step in the journey to enhance the health care delivery system in the Commonwealth. It is not the final step in the journey, though, because coverage does not always equate to access to care. Delivering access to high-value care for all Virginians requires more trained and licensed health care professionals. In Virginia, the health care sector typically has the greatest number of job openings in communities across the Commonwealth. As we continue to face challenges in finding qualified professionals to hire for good-paying health care jobs, our shared goal in working through this roundtable process is to identify policy solutions and strategies to responsibly address health care workforce needs to keep Virginia a prosperous place to live, work, and play.”

Added VHHA President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton: “Virginia hospitals are actively involved in training future generations of health care providers such as physicians and nurses. As the population ages and patient treatment needs grow, statistics indicate that demand for health care services is outpacing the present ability of the training pipeline to produce qualified health care practitioners. The formation of the roundtable group is a welcome development to facilitate collaboration across the continuum of care to address workforce needs, and we commend Governor Northam for convening a diverse group of stakeholders to focus on this important issue.”

“The Commonwealth has taken important steps to increase medical school graduates. Yet there is more work to do to ensure those graduates have adequate opportunities to complete their post-graduate medical training in Virginia,” noted state Senator George L. Barker of Fairfax County, who also serves as Chairman of the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority. “We do not have enough residency slots for all of the graduates of Virginia medical schools, so many have to go elsewhere for resident training. Two-thirds of those staying in Virginia for resident training remain here after their residency whereas less than 15 percent come back after residency elsewhere. Because we are losing too many young doctors, Virginia is now funding additional residencies to keep doctors here. Beyond physicians, another need is to expand the number of qualified behavioral health professionals who can help patients struggling with substance abuse and addiction. I look forward to working with Governor Northam and his Administration as part of the workforce roundtable process to address these issues.”

Healthcare-related jobs are projected to account for 13.6 percent of all U.S. jobs by 2024, up from 12 percent in 2014. In terms of total employment, health care remains one of the most significant growth sectors of the U.S. economy. Of the 9.3 million projected new jobs over the next decade, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that 3.8 million will come from health care. In Virginia, hospitals and health system directly provide more than 130,000 good-paying jobs and generate nearly $40 billion in economic activity in the state. Overall, health care-related jobs account for about 11 percent of the Virginia workforce.

However, a number of factors including government policy, patient demand, greater life expectancy, population growth, the Baby Boomer aging bottleneck, and an aging practitioner class (data indicates the median age is 51 for Virginia physicians and 46 for registered nurses and nurse practitioners) place strain on the available health care workforce contingent.

The impact of these trends on health care workforce supply is borne out in research conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) through the Bureau of Health Workforce and the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis.

The HRSA has projected that Virginia will have an 8.9 percent adequacy shortage in primary care physicians by 2025. Teaching hospitals are directly involved in the work of training future physicians, yet a government policy that froze federally-funded residency slots in 1997 means Virginia lags behind the national average of residencies and is ranked 33rd among states on the number of graduate medical education residents per 100,000 people. A national assessment by the Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of as many as 122,000 U.S. physicians by 2032.

Similar staffing challenges are projected in other key segments of the health care workforce. Citing BLS data, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) anticipates registered nurse workforce growth from 2.9 million in 2016 to 3.4 million in 2026, an increase of 438,100 positions. BLS projects an  additional 203,700 new registered nurses will be needed each year through 2026 to fill new positions and address retirement attrition.

The AACN reported a 3.7 percent enrollment increase in entry-level baccalaureate nursing program in 2018 but notes that isn’t sufficient to meet projected demand for nursing services. Last year, U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 75,000 qualified applicants for bachelor’s and graduate nursing degrees due to insufficient faculty, clinical sites, budgetary constraints, and other issues.

HRSA likewise projects a national shortage of behavioral health treatment providers such as adult and juvenile psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, psychologists, addiction counselors, and mental health counselors, among other professional and clinical roles even as demand for behavioral health treatment services is growing.

In 2018, Virginia hospitals accommodated nearly 50,000 voluntary and involuntary psychiatric inpatient admissions.

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