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UW Leaders Agree with Report on Health Care Worker Crisis

MADISON – The United States may not be able to meet national health care needs and is at risk for losing its place as a global health leader, according to a new report released by the Association of Academic Health Centers (AAHC). The nation's federal, state and private policymaking systems are ill-prepared to address a rapidly looming health workforce crisis.

Out of Order, Out of Time: The State of the Nation's Health Workforce says the country is running out of time to address the needs of an aging population that is putting increased demands on the health services workforce. Public health workers, the backbone of the nation's response to epidemics, disease, surveillance and public health education are estimated to be in perilously short supply.

"The problems discussed in the report are not new, but the time has come to take a much more aggressive stance regarding policies that acknowledge how critical the workforce issue is to quality health care," says UW-Madison School of Nursing Dean Katharyn A. May.
 
May noted that Wisconsin hospitals employ nearly 30,000 nurses and that nurses make up the largest percentage of state's public health professionals.

"At present, Wisconsin is struggling to meet nursing vacancies in key areas and the shortage will be exacerbated by the aging workforce and the increasing number of people with chronic diseases. Nursing schools around the state have increased enrollment, yet we are turning away qualified applicants due to insufficient funding for additional faculty and limited clinical training sites. The fragmented, piecemeal approach to workforce planning we have today is not working and we must act sooner, not later to address this problem. Comprehensive and coordinated national and state health workforce policies are needed now."

"The health workforce issue must become a domestic priority," says UW School of Pharmacy Dean Jeanette Roberts. "Meeting the demand for health care providers is proving to be a challenge now to hospitals, educational facilities, and state government policymakers. This relates back to many features including a serious faculty shortage. Without faculty of the proper quality and quantity, we can't educate the number of graduates we need to meet the workforce challenge or to advance our critical research mission that underpin many areas of health care. To complicate the situation further, the rate of chronic disease is rising as people live longer, fueling demand for medical services at the same time large numbers of hospital employees reach retirement age. It's an issue that will affect everyone."

"This report confirms what several previous reports predicted—our current policies are not addressing the growing shortage of health care providers," says UW School of Medicine and Public Health Dean Robert N. Golden, MD. "Making our health care workforce a national priority promotes both stability and economic strength. It's a key to maintaining the health of the public and insuring that we take full advantage of the recent advances in medical and population health research."

Nursing is the nation's largest health care profession. A 2007 projection anticipates a shortfall of 340,000 registered nurses by 2020. The picture in medicine is also alarming. There have been shortages in primary care for more than a decade, with some evidence of shortages in at least a dozen specialties.
 
Demand for pharmacists is rapidly increasing even as their workload and responsibilities in collaborative patient care also are increasing. In addition, the report notes that academic health centers have always had complex, multiple missions: teaching, advanced clinical practice and research. Now, however, shifting social, economic, regulatory and technological demands complicate retaining and attracting faculty educators.

Demographic changes are troubling when coupled to statistics on the general labor force. According to the Employment Policy Foundation, the workforce will have to increase by 58 million over the next three decades if the same rate of productivity is to be maintained. Yet if the current population trend continues, the number of workers will only increase by 23 million, creating an overall U.S. labor shortage of 35 million workers. Most of the projected shortages are expected to involve workers with specific skills, such as health professionals.

The report was funded in part by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.
 

Date Published: 07/24/2008


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