Health Care Workforce Report highlights nursing shortage, Gundersen implementing programs to recruit, retain nurses | Local News

The “nursing shortage has arrived,” the newest state Health Care Workforce report proclaims, with the pandemic hastening the previously predicted staffing crisis.







Janine Luz


The perfect storm of an aging workforce, with health care professionals retiring, coinciding with the growing senior population – the “silver tsunami” – has for years been anticipated by the Wisconsin Hospital Association, per data from its annual Health Care Workforce Report. And amid the pandemic extreme burnout has led more staff to leave their positions – and possibly the medical field entirely – in large numbers.

Health care entities are more in need than ever of qualified staff, with COVID-19 in patients needing more resources, additional services – like COVID vaccinations and testing – requiring more manpower, and those who delayed care due to the pandemic now rescheduling their visits or procedures. In addition, nursing home staff shortages mean people are staying in the hospital longer than necessary – WHA estimates that at one point in 2021, there were 600 patients occupying hospital beds in Wisconsin as they waited to be admitted to a long term care center.

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The staffing strain has been felt in facilities nationwide, statewide and local.

“We’re certainly experiencing what the report is showing,” says Janine Luz, vice president of human resources at the Gundersen Health System.

Per the 2022 WHA Workforce Report, in Wisconsin the number of vacancies in 13 out of 17 tracked professions rose in 2021, some by double digits, with the lowest number of registered nurses since 2005. Frontline clinical and technical staff are among the roles with the most vacancies, with CNA turnover “far exceed (ing) every other segment of the hospital workforce.”

Prior to 2021, the report shows, around one in four CNAs would change jobs, compared to one in three in 2021. For RN’s, the numbers for the same time periods were one in 10 and nearly one in five, respectively.

“Our health care workforce has shouldered an enormous professional, mental and emotional burden over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said WHA senior vice president of Workforce and Clinical Practice Ann Zenk. “They are understandably drained. They have cared for us through extremely challenging circumstances and at a time when their own ranks were depleted by illness and burnout. Wisconsin’s health care workers now more than ever deserve our understanding and commitment as we together seek to fill gaps between workforce supply and demand in order to maintain our state’s high-quality care. ”

Added WHA president and CEO Eric Borgerding, “Addressing the health care workforce shortage that has been building in Wisconsin and which has been exacerbated by COVID-19 will require a concerted and sustained strategy involving health care organizations, educators and policy makers that encourages, supports and advances health care workers in their pursuit of fulfilling and meaningful careers. “

WHA outlines several measures for addressing health care staff shortening, including retention and recruitment strategies, boosting the use of telemedicine, reducing regulatory burdens and increasing regulatory flexibility, and building private / public partnerships. Gundersen is among the organizations developing new strategies to recruit and retain employees to keep its hospitals running smoothly and continue offering top level care.

At Gundersen, efforts include the creation of a Career Development Center and resources addressing mental health. Both short and long term plans are being implemented.

“We’re exploring every avenue we can find the talent we need,” Luz says. The Career Development Center, which launched a year ago, pairs professionals with staff who are interested in pursuing other roles in medicine, advancing or planning a long term career path.

The timing of the Career Development Center’s opening was fortuitous, and Luz believes it is “really going to help us build that pipeline (of talent) – making sure people know how rewarding a career in healthcare can be. There are a lot of opportunities for people to work in many industries these days, but there are few you can go into and feel such a sense you’re really helping the community you are in every day.We think this is going to be a long term, really important component for us. “

Also offered is Gundersen’s medical assistant trainee program, which covers the cost of school while the individual works at the hospital, alongside a professional, for on-the-job learning. And for those new to the organization, such as recent graduates of nursing programs, “We have a really nice support system surround them – (those) with roles specifically focused on onboarding (helping employees understand the position and its requirements).”

To address the mental stresses of working in the medical field, Gundersen offers counseling to staff, and clinicians can be paired with peer coaches who understand the specific burdens they may experience and work through feelings of burnout.

Emily Pyrek can be reached at [email protected]

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