Even before the pandemic, doctors and nurses have always been in high demand. The new variant (Omicron), coupled with The Great Resignation, has only made that shortage worse. As a result some health-care workers, overwhelmed by two years fighting the virus and the system, opt for different options. Some have decided to retire, whilst others are trading positions for lucrative short-term assignments, at premium pay, driving up labor costs. 

According to a December survey by staffing company AMN Healthcare, three out of four health-care facilities were looking for temporary allied health professionals, a category that includes clinical workers who aren’t doctors, nurses or advanced practitioner.

A view from Nebraska:

Nebraska had the lowest unemployment of 1.8% in November of 2021. Troy Bruntz, who runs a 25-bed critical access facility in McCook, Nebraska, had been trying to recruit a third ultrasound technician for at least six months, without getting a single application. For lower-level positions, the hospital competes with the local Walmart store, where wages are rising.
“What used to be an $8 job now is $15,” said Bruntz, a 52-year-old who once worked as an accountant for KPMG. “That’s the only way we get people to come to work.”
He believes this trend will persist in the long-term, particularly in rural areas with aging populations. “We’re going to have so many more people retiring than entering the workforce that this is just going to get worse,” Bruntz said.

Mike Hansen, chief executive of Columbus Community Hospital, said hourly entry-level wages are now in the $15-$18 range. Nursing wages start at $35-$40/hours and keep rising with experience.
Hansen, 61, calls the pandemic labor squeeze the worst he has encountered through out his own career. “People need to realize, health-care people have been at this for almost two years now,” he said. “It’s been highly stressful.”

Video summary of the article:

A view from Indiana:

“This is the most significant labor shortage that we have ever seen,” said Sally Zuel, VP of Human Resources at Union Health in Terre Haute, Indiana. The health system, with about 3,000 employees, had to scramble and decided to move nurses from support positions into direct patient care. 

The current COVID surge in the area isn’t expected to subside in the near term. The volume of patients means staffing will remain tight. “​​We need every person every day,” Zuel said.

What trends healthcare industry need to address?

Mercer’s “2021 External Healthcare Labor Market Analysis”, has identified four key trends impacting the US healthcare labor market over the next 5-10 year horizon, and reveals how the healthcare industry needs to adapt to address future labor shortages. These trends are:
  1. There will be a shortage of healthcare workers at the low-end of the wage spectrum, which will directly impact access to home care
  2. Primary care will increasingly be provided by non-physicians
  3. There will be significant shortages of nurses in over half of US states, but surplus in some areas of the South and Southwest
  4. A hiring rush for mental health providers will emerge by 2026

John Derse, Healthcare Industry Leader at Mercer, in the report suggests that: 

“While hospitals and healthcare systems cannot control what’s happening in the external labor market, effective workforce planning and managing internal workforces can help mitigate their exposure to these risks. Workforce strategies that will position an employer for long-term success should focus on transforming care models, rethink compensation and benefits, and introduce more flexibility into staffing, development and rewards,” added Derse. “Prior to the pandemic, the shortages were driven by a healthcare population that was trending older, sicker and more sedentary. Employers should not wait to transform their retention models to accommodate for all demographics in their workforce impacted by the pandemic, particularly ageing skilled professionals considering early retirement.”