The Coming Crisis in Healthcare: Workforce

By Chris Clark, President & CEO, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and Neil L. Pruitt, Jr., Chairman & CEO, PruittHealth

Across Georgia and the country, we are experiencing a serious need for healthcare staff. Hospitals, senior care facilities, urgent care centers, local health clinics, and even imaging centers are facing long-term problems providing access to care for our citizens.

We’ve seen this issue progressively worsen since COVID as burnout, fluctuations in demand, rising turnover, and lawsuit abuse have led to skyrocketing medical malpractice costs, and as healthcare professionals desire more work-life balance. Most concerning is the decline in appreciation and respect for the value of front-line healthcare personnel. We’ve become a society that refuses to show gratitude for our most important workers: educators, public safety employees, and caregivers.

Right now, Georgia has nearly 40,000 job openings in the healthcare industry. In 24 months, we expect over 60,000 openings. By 2030, when the baby boomers retire, we’ll need 100,000. The demand for nurse practitioners will rise by 75%, physical therapists surge by 33%, home health workers by 37%, and demand for physician assistants will rise by 38%. In the next five years alone, we’ll need at least 16% more doctors as well. That’s right, by 2030 we’ll be in a full-blown crisis that will negatively impact care and public safety!

This has greatly affected the bottom line of healthcare facilities, with many of the country’s leading hospital systems posting massive losses. Institutions were already operating at the margins prior to 2020, but the pandemic only increased demands from facilities while also producing skyrocketing expenses.

In rural Georgia, we’ve seen the closing of smaller hospitals and community-based clinics creating more healthcare deserts, and significantly impacting maternal care and emergency medicine among other critical areas of patient care. Families across the state will face more challenges and less options when seeking a nurse for home health care and finding hospice care or a nursing home for their aging loved ones.

This staffing crisis is leading to ongoing delays related to boarding in emergency departments, prolonged admission to hospitals, and delayed elective and emergency surgeries. Each of these contributes to adverse outcomes, morbidity, and mortality. We know the problem; the question is do we have the resolve to find solutions?

Fortunately, Georgia leaders have shown their willingness to work on real-world solutions. In the last few years, we’ve increased funding for medical school slots and added a medical school in Savannah. Mercer Medical has expanded to Columbus and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has opened campuses in Moultrie and Suwanee. The general assembly created a tax credit program for private investments in rural communities and Governor Kemp offered targeted waivers to extend Medicare and Medicaid coverage of postpartum care. The state has also worked to improve mental health access and services.

But more work must be done at the state level and within our healthcare systems. Implementing the changes listed below can increase our competitiveness and ensure we are able to attract and retain healthcare talent.

  • Raise salaries, improve benefits, and offer in-house 24/7 childcare for staff. Many individuals entering healthcare have young families. Yet many providers are forced to work well over 50 hours per week. Quality childcare is a great benefit perk, both financially and emotionally, for staff.
  • Flexible scheduling. Nurses and other staff are leaving high-stress and long hours behind in exchange for schedules that give them more time with family. Some systems are bringing in retired workers to help balance workloads, some are offering radically different scheduling systems.
  • Re-engineer the electronic medical record. Reducing providers’ screen time can optimize efficiency and reduce mental health detriments. Many providers report feeling like data entry clerks with diminishing human connection to patients. Moreover, they are often forced to spend their few evening hours at home completing patient charting responsibilities instead of being present with family.
  • Invest in provider support. Some systems are hiring more advanced practice providers, medical scribes, and support staff so that each employee may focus on their skillset, hence improving efficiency and outcomes.
  • Rethink the scope of practice. In rural communities, nurse practitioners could have a real impact if their scope was sufficient for the needs of their patients. There are opportunities to better align the skills of employees by allowing them to operate at the top of their license, improving retention and job satisfaction while better meeting community needs to provide high-quality care.
  • Improve healthcare career pathways for students to fully expose high schoolers to opportunities in health and wellness in their communities. Keep it simple, expose them to opportunities, and make it meaningful.
  • Georgia needs a halo nursing program to recruit the best and brightest from other fields. In other states, these graduates become managers, directors, and administrators. Opportunities to continue providing lifelong learning and management growth opportunities for nurses will ensure Georgia can recruit top-tier talent from across the country.
  • Innovative training programs. Phoebe Putney is currently building their own nursing school complete with dorms on their campus. Albany Technical College will certify the training. This innovative approach could be a model statewide and deserves attention.
  • More doctors. Georgia ranks 41st for public school physicians that stay and practice in-state. When we add Morehouse and Mercer graduates, we rise to 35th, but that is still not good enough! We need more medical schools and more scholarships.
  • Medical malpractice reform. Doctors used to need $1 million to $3 million in annual malpractice insurance coverage. Today they need $10 million to $30 million. Premiums alone run many doctors to more affordable destinations. Unfortunately, personal injury attorneys now view doctors and caregivers as cash cows. The result is fewer doctors practicing where we need them most! It’s driving up the cost of insurance for every hospital in our state.

Georgia’s healthcare system has undergone significant changes after the pandemic. We must continue working alongside our state’s lawmakers and healthcare providers to develop comprehensive solutions to the workforce shortage that benefit practitioners and patients alike.

For over 100 years, the Georgia Chamber has advocated on behalf of the well-being of Georgia businesses and communities. To learn more about the Chamber’s efforts to ensure the health and wellness of the Peach State, visit www.gachamber.com.

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