Local collaboration aims to address health care workforce issues

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Workforce shortages are not a new concept in the Pikes Peak region, or Colorado or even the U.S. There has been much discussion surrounding skilled trades and the lack of workers to fill them, whether in the manufacturing sector, construction or information technology. Many of those shortages are blamed on a lack of exposure and educational opportunities within the public school system.

High school woodworking and metal shops are a thing of the past, remnants of an age when the intent was to get every student into a four-year school upon graduation.

But many schools have realized the error of their ways and are bringing back vocational programs.

Health care’s workforce is quickly mirroring manufacturing’s, with existing and expected shortages hitting all fields — from certified nursing assistants and phlebotomists, to registered nurses, physician assistants and the physicians themselves.

Issues such as the expansion of Medicaid and the aging Baby Boomer population, as well as worker shortages, will significantly impact health care for future generations.

Last week, to begin addressing these workforce issues, COShealth launched its Healthcare Work Force Enablement Seminar Series, which is intended to stimulate dialogue concerning workforce issues.

COShealth is a partnership of local health care and workforce organizations, and is a spinoff of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance’s health care sector team.

A story about COShealth and its video series will be in the Colorado Springs Business Journal Nov. 4, and will include workforce figures provided by speaker Tatiana Bailey, director of the UCCS Economic Forum in the College of Business and Debbie Chandler, president and CEO of UCHealth’s Colorado Health Medical Group and former CEO of Colorado Springs Health Partners.

The launch also included a panel discussion among local health care professionals.

Panel members included Dana Barton, business relations and employment development director at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center; Kelli Sullivan, clinical training specialist at Colorado Springs Health Partners; Mike Ware, chief executive officer at El Paso County Medical Society; Jennifer Yugo, chief scientist at Corvirtus, a business management consulting firm; and Henry Lewis, a physician recruiter. Bailey moderated the discussion. She began by asking the panelists for their greatest challenges involving the region’s health care workforce.

One of the PPWFC’s greatest challenges is training, Barton said.

“We don’t have enough individuals to train or go into the training field,” she said, adding her husband switched careers to become a registered nurse but had to train in Pueblo.

The supply of primary care physicians in the region is 37 percent below the national average, Ware added.

“The state closely mirrors the national average, so statewide we’re OK,” he said. “Here in Colorado Springs we’re significantly below.”

Ware said, anecdotally, he’s heard the community does a good job of recruiting physicians, but not retaining them.

“We lose them when their three-year contract is up,” he said. “The reason I get is we don’t have the clinical support infrastructure that attracts the best and brightest from around the country who want to come here and do innovative things.”

The health care sector needs to think intentionally about what it wants to achieve regarding patient experience, Yugo said.

“Put a definition on what that is and how to deliver it and hire for those things,” she said.

Workforce training and retention also rely on quality leadership, Henry said, adding there are 73 million Millennials entering the workforce and the generation is known to move around.

“They want different things from the Baby Boomers,” he said. “They want mentorship; they want professional development. … If you don’t give them that, they will leave. There was a study that said 91 percent [of Millennials] won’t make it more than three years. What does that do to a CEO’s budget?”

Bailey asked the panelists about the gaps in the region’s health care workforce.

Barton said the majority of those seeking work at the workforce center are people who have lost jobs and that the priority is placed on finding positions for those utilizing public assistance.

What tends to be missing in health care, she said, are career pathways that help entry-level medical professionals progress, such as programs that move CNAs to RNs. Those pathways, she said, should also start earlier, so high school students can graduate with certifications in the medical field.

Sullivan added CSHP is impacted both positively and negatively by the region’s military presence because trained and skilled workers often come out of the military, but that, due to the region’s transient population, it can be difficult finding organizational buy-in from employees who are leaving in a couple years.

For more information about COShealth and its video series, visit connectcore.org/healthcare-seminar-series and check out this week’s Business Journal.

1 COMMENT

  1. Steve Shepard

    Many work force shortages in the Pikes Peak region are caused by employers. Corporate employers in the Pikes Peak region have a reputation for demanding high level certification and education qualifications and are not willing to pay spit for those qualifications. Corporate greed and selfish business behavior are well known here. There is more opportunity for ambulance chasing lawyers in Colorado Springs.