Health Care Sector Sees Rise in Employment
The nation's economic recession has led thousands of Americans to take jobs in the health care sector, helping to ease the shortage of workers across the industry, the Los Angeles Times reports. While the overall economy has "shed" 1.2 million jobs over the last 12 months, the health sector has added 297,000 positions, making health care employment "one of the few engines of growth in the U.S. economy." The increase in jobs has also "softened the recession's blow, providing work for people who otherwise might do without." Michael Israel, CEO of Duke University Hospital, said, "It's a good rule of thumb: The supply of health care professionals is inversely related to the state of the economy." The biggest "crossover" from other sectors to health care has been among non-medical professionals such as administration aides, admissions clerks and service workers. But the recession has also led many "trained personnel" who exited the health care field during the economic boom of the 1990s to return, while many others have switched from part-time status to full-time. "We've been able to hire a lot of those people in the last year or 15 months; well-qualified people who weren't available to us a year ago because the dot-coms were alive," said David Levinsohn, CEO of Los Angeles' Sherman Oaks Hospital, said, adding, "Those people have lost their jobs and they're now seeking jobs in health care."
Despite the hiring surge, the nation's medical facilities still face serious staffing shortages that are unlikely to be alleviated by short-term economic forces alone. Hospitals faced severe financial troubles in the late 1990s, but the industry now has more room to expand its hiring because of a backlash against managed care that resulted in higher reimbursement rates from health plans, and the partial restoration of Medicare funds that were cut by Congress as part of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. But with health costs continuing to rise, both of these sources of additional revenue could prove temporary. Many hospitals and nursing homes are still on shaky financial ground, which could limit their ability to hire more workers, even if the labor pool continues to increase. "Only about a third of hospitals in this country are financially sound," Gary Mecklenburg, CEO of Northwestern Memorial Health Care in Chicago and chair of the American Hospital Association's National Workforce Commission, said, adding, "If you don't have the revenue, you can't hire and pay the people." Carmela Coyle, the American Hospital Association's vice president, added, "We are facing work shortages that are expected to dramatically worsen in the next five to 10 years. While we're hiring more, we need even more than we can hire" (Vieth, Los Angeles Times, 2/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.