Workforce challenges top the list of issues confronting WHA members. On Jan. 29, WHA’s Council on Workforce Development weighed in on key workforce trends, considerations and strategies at their first meeting of 2022.
Guidance on COVID-19 continues to evolve, including criteria for isolation and quarantine of health care personnel based on the continuum of conventional, contingency and crisis staffing. Ashlie Dowdell, director of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ (DHS’s) Healthcare-Associated Infections Prevention Program joined the Council on Workforce Development for a discussion of the Centers for Disease Control latest (Jan. 21) updates regarding quarantine and isolation of health care personnel.
Staffing gaps due to isolation or quarantine have a critical impact while hospital occupancy remains very high, and workforce shortages are increasing. WHA Senior Vice President Workforce and Clinical Practice Ann Zenk provided the council with a preview of personnel survey results for 2021 that show dramatic increases in vacancy rates in multiple segments of the health care workforce. Council members agreed that the 2021 data reflects their experience—increasing difficulty finding and retaining front-line clinical and technical positions for inpatient units and emergency departments, and increased reliance on agency staffing.
Hospitals and nursing homes continue to have high staff vacancy rates and high turnover for nursing assistant roles. Wisconsin Health Care Association/Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living (WHA/WiCAL) Director of Workforce Development Kate Battiato provided an update on the re-launch of a statewide program to attract more individuals to the health care workforce, the WisCaregiver Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Career Program. The program includes free CNA training and certification testing, employment at a participating nursing home and a $500 retention bonus as strategies to attract and retain new workers to the field.
High utilization of staffing agencies and increasing costs were a focus of the WHA state and federal workforce advocacy update provided to the council. WHA General Counsel Matthew Stanford reviewed WHA advocacy steps already taken and led a discussion with the council on consideration of policy options to address agency concerns. WHA action thus far included a letter
to DHS Secretary-Designee Timberlake about state staffing agency contracts, a request
to the Wisconsin federal delegation to sign on to a congressional letter requesting a Biden administration investigation of traveling nursing agency anti-competitive practices and WHA monitoring of other states’ regulatory and legislative activity.
The Council on Workforce Development closed its meeting with an update on the culmination of WHA’s goal to launch a co-branded salary survey with the Wisconsin Healthcare Human Resources Association (WisHHRA). Zenk highlighted WHA’s goal to provide WHA members with a robust survey process, data, and reporting, noting also the value this data will add to WHA’s workforce advocacy efforts. She also recognized WisHHRA’s history and expertise with salary surveys. Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center Vice President Jennifer Mueller provided an update on the survey vendor and the process that will be utilized to develop and roll out the survey. WHA Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Finance Brian Potter verified WHA’s intent to provide this hospital salary survey and platform to WHA and WisHHRA participants at no cost.