In a virtual meeting on March 3, members of WHA’s Workforce Council discussed both their own internal workforce strategies and efforts as well as resources available and work taking place at a state level to strengthen and grow Wisconsin’s health care workforce.
With the surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations on the decline, hospital and health system leaders are not pausing for breath in their committed work build and sustain the health care workforce necessary to meet not just the demands of the pandemic, but all the health care needs of their communities. At the same time, hospitals are working to provide health care teams some much-needed and well-earned time to pause for recuperation from their relentless battle with successive surges of COVID-19.
Partners from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Offices of Policy Initiatives and Budget joined the Council to provide an update on the opening of the latest round of DHS Grow Our Own grant applications. Policy Analysts Randy McElhose and Donna Wong provided council members key information on four WHA-crafted workforce grants: Graduate Medical Education (GME) Creation Grants, GME Expansion Grants, Allied Health Profession (AHP) Training Grants and Advanced Practice Clinician (APC) Training Grants.
McElhose noted, “These grants are about scouting ahead to prepare for where shortages might occur and address that through additional training opportunities.”
The training grants are matching grants, creating valuable public-private partnerships that have spurred more than $40 million in investment in additional health care training opportunities, in programs designed to take advantage of WHA’s 86% equation. Data show that if you put a Wisconsin student through a Wisconsin medical school and place them in a Wisconsin residency, there’s an 86% chance that new physician will stay in Wisconsin to practice.
The GME grants currently awarded are projected to create an additional 136 GME residency positions in Wisconsin by 2023. Once this pipeline is full, Wisconsin will have 47 additional physicians each year thanks to the grant program.
One workforce member summed up the value of the DHS workforce grant program for rural hospitals and encouraged others to apply, noting, “Once you get them here, they love it and want to stay—but you have to get them here.”
Grow Our Own applications are open now and can be accessed via the following links: New GME RFA, AHP RFA and APC RFA. Funds for these three grants will begin to be distributed in July. Applications for the fourth grant, GME expansion, open in July for distribution beginning in September.
The WHA Council on Workforce Development also heard from WHA staff about regulatory barriers WHA is breaking down to help grow the health care workforce faster in order to allow health care teams to reach their full potential and to relieve staff from unnecessary regulatory burden.
WHA Senior Vice President of Workforce and Clinical Practice Ann Zenk provided an update on WHA’s work with the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) to prioritize processing of health care licensure. Zenk related, “Every delay WHA members alert us to—over 300 individual licenses to date—has helped provide insight into causes for delay; insight that can lead to solutions to streamline licensure and better welcome health care professionals to Wisconsin.”
WHA General Counsel Matthew Stanford highlighted another segment of WHA’s ongoing work with DSPS and Wisconsin’s professional licensing board for physicians and affiliated professions, the Medical Examining Board (MEB). Stanford shared with the council how recent efforts have put up a caution flag on a new MEB rule that would result in at least $55 million in additional costs for health care employers, but perhaps of even greater concern, create a bottleneck in access when sufficient certified medical assistants and other frontline staff couldn’t be found to meet the requirements of this new rule.
The council closed with a discussion by workforce members of their strategies to address the needs of their workforce and the health care demands of the communities they serve as Wisconsin emerges from this latest surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Council members shared short-term strategies, such as recruitment and retention bonuses, and long-term strategies, such as new in-house childcare programs, internal training for in-demand positions and ways to provide staff with ongoing respite and rewards. All agreed that workforce shortages are hampering recovery efforts and that frontline technical positions continue to be the greatest pressure point.