Like many industries, health care in the Pikes Peak region is finding its workforce at insufficient levels to meet the community’s needs.

The problem stems from the expansion of Medicaid, a rapidly growing senior population and the shrinking marketplace of primary care providers.

COShealth, a partnership of local health-care and workforce organizations, is a spin-off of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance’s health care sector team. As a first step to counteract declining health care workforce trends, COShealth last week launched its Healthcare Work Force Enablement Seminar Series, that is intended to stimulate dialogue concerning workforce issues.

The launch event featured a keynote welcome from Debbie Chandler, president and CEO of UCHealth’s Colorado Health Medical Group and former CEO of Colorado Springs Health Partners, and a panel discussion that included local health-care and workforce experts.

THE NUMBERS GAME

Health care has seen a recent shift from a “single-person sport,” Chandler said, to a team approach, which can help alleviate workforce challenges.

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“Health-care reform has broadened our ability to do team-based care,” she said.

Regarding the region’s health-care workforce, Chandler said a population should ideally have one primary care physician for every 1,900 residents. To achieve that ratio, El Paso County would have to increase its primary care providers from 224 to 334 — a 54 percent jump.

“That’s pretty much unsustainable,” she said, adding some rural Colorado counties are in need of a 75 percent increase in primary care providers.

In El Paso County, Medicaid patients outnumber providers who accept Medicaid by 2,500 to 1.

“We already don’t have enough primary care providers,” Chandler said. “In order to [make up] that shortage, we need 122 [additional] Medicaid-accepting physicians in El Paso County alone.”

But Chandler said that shortage can be mitigated by increasing the number of advanced practitioners, which includes nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

The county also suffers from a shortage of mental and behavioral health professionals, Chandler said. The newest models of care include concepts of embedding behavioral health professionals in primary care practices.

“In 2015, 34 percent of Coloradans over the age of 5 didn’t get the mental health care they needed, and that’s on the rise,” Chandler said, adding the greatest deficit is in mental health professionals who can prescribe medication.

Finally, Chandler said regional health care should analyze its IT capabilities.

“We need data to make care better,” she said. “Once we get data, we need IT professionals who can manipulate that data and identify who needs to be involved.”

Chandler said the industry is lacking IT-savvy professionals.

“So we can take health care professionals and train them in IT or vice versa,” she said. “At UCHealth, we’re doing that right now.”

Regarding the retention of health-care professionals, Chandler said about 60 percent of those who complete their residencies stay in the community where they studied.

‘A HUGE, HUGE PLAYER’

The panel discussion was moderated by Tatiana Bailey, director of the UCCS Economic Forum in the College of Business. She provided an overview of the industry within the context of total U.S. employment.

According to her data, professional health services saw the most robust increase in employment, nationwide, over the past decade.

“That tells you something about how quickly health care has been growing,” she said, adding there is projected to be a shortage of 20,400 primary care physicians by the year 2020.

“If we more effectively integrate nurse practitioners and physician assistants, the shortage is greatly mitigated,” she said. “There is the need for more team-based care.”

The shortage, Bailey said, shrinks to about 6,400 full-time equivalents if the team approach is utilized.

“In the U.S., we have way too many subspecialty care physicians,” she said. “If we use more primary care physicians, we will be smarter about how we deliver care and put more emphasis on preventive care.”

Locally, Bailey said the sector could be one of the area’s strongest economic drivers.

In Colorado, health care was the sixth-largest contributor to the gross state product and, in Colorado Springs, the sixth-largest contributor to the city’s gross metropolitan product.

“In El Paso County, if we compare [quarter] 1 of 2006 to Q1 2016, the sector with the highest rate of increase is health care and social assistance, up 51 percent,” Bailey said. “In terms of employment, health care is a huge, huge player.”

THE VIDEOS

The free video series is meant to develop the community’s health-care workforce by addressing issues facing health care employers.

“The COShealth Workforce Enablement Seminar Series provides the local health-care industry with educational and innovative content that encourages health-care workforce best practices,” said literature from COShealth. The topics are:

• Vision and overview;

• Behavioral/psych talent qualification, recruitment and retention;

• Training funds and programs: What is available and what is needed;

• Enhancing the workforce;

• Health-care workforce retention;

• Health-care worker safety;

• Laws and regulations and how they affect the workforce; and

• Health-care information technology.

For more information on the video series, visit connectcore.org/healthcare-seminar-series.