A Spotlight on Labor Shortages

A comprehensive look at labor shortages and how health systems can adjust.

By: Barbara Giacomelli

Read time: 3 minutes

A look at labor shortages and how health systems can adjust.

Four in five pharmacies are struggling to fill open positions, according to a survey by the National Community Pharmacists Association. Problems stemming from labor issues have consistently increased within health care. Predictions say these problems will only worsen with time. This has impacted services offered by pharmacies including in some cases hours of operation.

Labor shortages across health systems, in particular, are most prominent across the physician, nursing, pharmacy tech and mental health professions. Despite newly reported COVID-19 cases being on the decline, the healthcare sector’s staff crisis continues to be urgent. According to a Morning Consult/Axios survey (PDF, 1.1 MB)

Here are some key factors contributing to these increasing shortages and how health systems can adjust to address them.

An Aging Population

The labor force is aging, and there will be many individuals retiring around the same time (notably the Baby Boomer generation). Additionally, many professionals are also retiring early due to COVID-19.

Research predicts the U.S. will face a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2033 and will need to hire at least 200,000 nurses per year to meet increased demand and to replace retiring nurses.

Employee Burnout

Many industries have felt the impact of “the Great Resignation,” and health care is no exception. It is the second-largest sector affected by the Great Resignation, with COVID-19 accelerating employee departures and labor shortages due to burnout. Workers are reportedly leaving for better-paying jobs that expose them less to COVID-19, such as positions that allow them to work from home. Beyond compensation and exposure, healthcare professionals cite:

  • Too many bureaucratic tasks and less time for patient care
  • Spending too many hours at work
  • Lack of respect from administrators/employers, colleagues or staff
  • Lack of control/autonomy
  • Increasing computerization of practice

In addition to the factors outlined above, there also are critical shortages of allied health and behavioral health professionals, especially in historically marginalized rural and urban communities. Increased demand for mental health services, drug/alcohol abuse support and domestic violence strains already stretched resources. Collectively, each of these factors makes it difficult to maintain enough staff to deliver quality care.

How Health Systems Must Adjust

There are a number of ways health systems can and are adjusting to labor shortages. One opportunity is adopting predictive analytics to solve labor shortages and effectively staff the workforce. Key components to doing this are: providing real-time business intelligence; incorporating artificial intelligence questions and algorithms to effectively deploy nurse resources and staff; enabling healthcare providers to anticipate COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and forecast supply needs; and estimating necessary workforce numbers and help hospitals gain line of sight into workforce levels to ensure the continuity of patient care.

In addition to analytics, health systems are implementing flexible scheduling to cover shifts and pharmacy hours of operation. Healthcare organizations are implementing or expanding training programs for healthcare providers, including pharmacy technicians, outsourcing non patient care services to free-up healthcare providers for patient care functions.

The health and well-being of healthcare personnel is a top concern for health system administrators. Preventing burnout and improving employee morale leads to improved job satisfaction. As aging healthcare professionals retire and the pandemic wanes, it will be especially critical for health systems to propose solutions for easing the burden on staff.

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