Last night, Dane County’s Health and Human Needs Healthcare and Public Health Workforce Subcommittee held its first hearing. The subcommittee was established in May to address the recruitment, retention, and well-being of healthcare workers. Several workers, most of whom had left the profession, were on hand to recount the mental health struggles they experienced and how these were exacerbated by the pandemic.
Ashley Campbell has been a bedside nurse at UW’s inpatient cancer unit for seven years. She abstractly described what has led her colleagues to leave the job.
“And one by one, my devoted colleagues leave my unit, not because they wanted to, but because their wives and husbands have watched them become husks of their former selves, incapacitated by the moral injury,” described Campbell while crying. “And they pleaded with them to leave.”
The Wisconsin Hospital Association’s 2022 Healthcare Workforce Report shows a notable increase in turnover among nursing staff in 2021 compared to years prior. For registered nurses, the increase was by about 50%. For certified nursing assistants, the turnover rate rose to 32%, the highest in the hospital workforce.
Dane County supervisor Mike Bare is the chair of this subcommittee. He was moved by the healthcare workers’ testimonies.
“It was telling,” said the supervisor. “I think it’s telling about the status of this workforce and the pressure that we’ve put on them and the various things that we’ve asked them to do. And the lack of understanding and respect and response to all of the things that we’ve had to do, that’s become very evident.”
A report titled The Long-Term Care Workforce Crisis illustrates the shortages in caregivers across Wisconsin. According to the report, there are over 23,000 vacancies, but only 19,600 Wisconsinites are unemployed and seeking work.
The hearing also included talks from representatives of healthcare providers to hear their perspective. Amy Hermes, the Chief Nursing Officer for Stoughton Health, said that her provider has twenty-three open positions and a 14% turnover rate. She pitched their efforts to recruit and train staff.
“We’re working on a ‘grow your own’ pilot. We’re starting with a sleep tech program right now. We’re hiring them in for a certain FTE at a lower rate of pay and paying for all their education to put them through the courses that they need, including paying for their exams that they’ll need to be certified at the end of it, with a two-year commitment. We have established a workforce development fund. So for instance, if one of our plants’ operations folks want to go on for a certification, it doesn’t quite fall in our tuition reimbursement or tuition advancement, but they can get a certification through this program,” Hermes said.
Supervisor Bare welcomed providers’ acknowledgements of the issues.
“Well it is encouraging to hear that employers recognize that this is a problem and that they do need to be responsive to their workers, ensure that they’re able to retain their workers and recruit new ones when needed, and treat them in a respectful way that encourages their wellness and encourages their high quality of work,” Bare said.
The subcommittee will hold a follow-up meeting to focus on solutions to these issues. A date is yet to be determined, but the subcommittee hopes to present recommendations to the Health and Human Needs committee at its August 11 meeting. Action at the board level would follow in the months thereafter.
Image courtesy: Arseny Togulev / UNSPLASH
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