On September 18th, the Schroeder Center for Health Policy hosted with W&M Public Policy the first of three panels, “Addressing Healthcare Workforce Shortages in Virginia,” to celebrate its 20th anniversary at the Alumni House. Moderated by Jen Mellor, Paul R. Verkuil Professor of Economics and Director of the Schroeder Center for Health Policy, the panel participants – Sharon Alexander, Director of Workforce Initiatives at the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA); Deborah Oswalt, Executive Director of the Virginia Health Care Foundation (VHCF); and Harrison Hayes, Executive Director of the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority (VHWDA) – each addressed how the workforce shortage currently affects their organizations and consumers particularly in rural areas before fielding questions from both Dr. Mellor and the audience.
Although the three panelists came from different organizations with unique goals, the panelists found common ground in acknowledging how workforce shortages have limited the impact of their respective organizations. Sharon Alexander, a panelist and hospital administrator who primarily addresses workforce recruitment and retention in hospitals, attributed stagnant workforce growth to clinician burnout during COVID, nursing school faculty shortages limiting the nursing school graduates, out-of-state recruitment, and an aging population. Likewise, Deborah Oswalt drew on her experience leading initiatives to provide healthcare services to medically underserved and uninsured Virginia residents particularly in rural areas to highlight the shortage of mental healthcare professionals. Citing the Virginia Health Care Foundation’s “Assessment of the Capacity of Virginia’s Licensed Behavioral Health Workforce”, Oswalt noted that Virginia ranks 39th in mental healthcare in terms of licensed professionals per 100,000 people, 41st in terms of mental healthcare availability, and 49th in terms of child and youth mental healthcare.
Though the first part of the panel was dedicated to highlighting current workforce shortages and issues, Harrison Hayes’ introduction and the questions from both Dr. Mellor and the audience primarily focused on potential policy solutions at the state level. In this regard, all three panelists were optimistic that changes limiting the barrier to entry, refocusing on recruitment tacts, increasing wages, and modifying the workplace environment and administrative structure could contribute to workforce growth. While Alexander presented many changes on the hospital administrative level that included more flexible shift hours for healthcare professionals and policies reducing workplace violence, Harrison Hayes cited solutions from the VHWDA’s “Health Workforce Survey” (https://www.vhwda.org/initiatives/health-workforce-study). Working with RAND and Deloitte to gather environmental scans of literature, retention surveys, and the analysis of qualitative and quantitative data, Hayes highlighted three key factors in combating the shortage: decreased barriers (fatigue, distress, and disengagement), increased recruitment, and increased wages. Showing data from the first part of the report, Hayes along with Alexander and Oswalt recommended changes to nursing education, high school pathways, healthcare qualifications, recruitment efforts, payscale, and workplace environments. Though the VHWDA’s “Health Workforce Survey” still suggested that these changes would only delay the shortage until 2035, all three panelists agreed that these changes would be an excellent start to developing a stronger workforce capable of handling future demands. For students interested in the VHWDA’s report, Hayes noted the final part is to be released around September 29th.
For students interested in learning more about the labor market for healthcare professionals or healthcare in general, the Schroeder Center for Health Policy will host Dr. Douglas Staiger with the William & Mary Economics Department on October 2, 2023 in the Sadler Center (Tidewater A) at 4:30. Dr. Staiger, a nationally recognized expert on labor markets for healthcare professionals, will deliver a talk on “Strengthening the Current and Future Nursing Workforce.” A week later (October 9th, 2023), the Schroeder Center alongside the William & Mary Sociology Department will host Dr. Jeanne Batalova, Senior Policy Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, for a talk on “The Role of Immigrants in the U.S. Healthcare Workforce” in the Sadler Center (Tidewater B) at 4:30.