The changing face of health care carries with it both significant promise and legitimate causes for concern.
More individuals today have access to health services than at any other time in our nation’s history. The passage of the Affordable Care Act resulted in an instant surge in patients – specifically, the number visiting doctors’ offices for routine, preventive wellness appointments. Since the law was enacted, more than eight million individuals have enrolled for coverage through health-insurance marketplaces.
At the same time, we are witnessing a sharp rise in the need for specialized geriatric-care services as the “baby boomer” population ages. Estimates report that 40 million Americans were 65 or older in 2010, with those projections swelling to nearly 90 million seniors by 2050.
Both phenomena point to a startling reality: each will carry with it a significant uptick in the demand for nurses at each stop along the health care continuum, from hospitals and rehabilitation facilities to nursing homes and clinics alike.
But what happens when the supply can’t match the demand?
In one sense, Texas already is at a disadvantage; its supply of nurses per 100,000 population trails the U.S. figure by more than 20 percent. And a recent report from the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies highlights two other disturbing facts: the median age of registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses in our state is 46 and 45, respectively.
When factoring in a growing population and the expected influx of new patients, the shortage of nurses will continue to exacerbate. What’s more, experts project that more than 1 million nursing positions will need to be filled by 2020 – half of which will be the direct result of nurses who retire – and Texas could bear the brunt of that figure.
Replacing a population of career nurses, however, isn’t the only challenge that lies ahead.
Another piece that complicates future staffing scenarios is the need for extensive training and education among the nursing workforce. There are certain subspecialties of nursing that require additional education beyond that typical of registered nurses. For instance, coursework to become a nurse in an emergency room or neonatal intensive care unit is far greater than what is needed to be a nurse in a doctor’s office.
The skillsets for positions such as these make finding suitable personnel a highly competitive venture. What is complicating matters, though, is that many nurses in Texas only achieve the minimum amount of coursework necessary for their position and are not seeking higher levels of education.
The Institute of Medicine, in 2011, set a goal of having 80 percent of all registered nurses attain either a bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree in nursing. But as of three years ago, less than half of all registered nurses in Texas had achieved that standard. And according to a 2013 report from the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies, Texas is not on track to achieve this standard.
So what is being done to meet current nursing-staff needs?
The number of applicants interested in joining the nursing profession remains high, but one major problem encountered at the university level is a shortage in qualified faculty. In 2011, only 4,486 nurses in Texas identified themselves as a faculty member or educator at the university level. What’s more, a disturbing trend is that these educators are growing older – with an average age of 56 in 2011, many of whom will soon be eligible to retire.
To that end, recruiting and retaining quality instructors has become highly competitive. One solution to combat this, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, is creating a strategy to encourage nurses to join the teaching ranks at an earlier age.
With only a limited number of qualified candidates available to fill critical-need positions, organizations must become innovative in the way they recruit and hire potential employees.
Once it becomes fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act is expected to help more than 32 million Americans gain access to health insurance. That will certainly place the role of the clinical-staff nurse in high demand. Compounding that problem, though, is the low rate of physicians entering private practice. But an effort to bolster the number of nurse practitioners – whom can provide many of the same services as a primary physician – could help offset that disparity.
The fastest-growing staffing solution in health care – Recruitment Process Outsourcing – is something that has been going on in other industries for quite some time, albeit it is referred to by other terminology in other commercial businesses. In this realm, staffing agencies partner with – and become an extension – of an organization’s human resources department. The agencies recruit, screen, credential, hire and retain personnel that become full-time employees of the partnering organization rather than temporary workers. Employing such a strategy costs about 2/3 less than traditional recruiting methods.
Efforts to utilize contingent staffing as a solution have also seen marked results. This succeeds in two key areas: giving organizations the flexibility to monitor provider spending based on patient-care needs and volumes and guarding full-time employees against burnout while protecting organizations from high turnover rates.
Finding – and keeping – employees that are the right fit in terms of skill level and organizational need is a continually evolving process. Pinpointing a solution, though, meets the needs of facilities and consumers alike: providing quality, dependable health care from a network of qualified professionals.
Since becoming president and CEO in March 2010, Janet Elkin has guided Supplemental Health Care into one of the country’s top health care staffing organizations. Based in Irving, Elkin has helped the company flourish – expanding its network to more than 58 offices throughout the United States and generating revenues that exceed $200 million annually.
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