When health leaders are scrambling to ensure adequate staffing every single day, bringing a more strategic focus to their healthcare workforce may not make it to the top of the to-do list. But a long-term holistic approach that begins quickly paying off is exactly what’s needed to move away from the constant staffing fire drills and set up the organization for ongoing success.
Already existing and projected shortages of physicians, nurses, medical assistants, lab technicians, and many other health professionals have become significantly worse in the months since the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has triggered widespread provider burnout, retirements, and resignations—and the fear that there will be an even bigger wave of workers leaving healthcare once the pandemic has finally been tamed.
What’s needed is a sustainable staffing and workforce development model that provides immediate staff support while rolling out a longer-term staffing and training strategy.
Adventist Health is two years into just such a workforce approach. The health system, with 80 hospitals and medical facilities and 37,000 employees on the West Coast and Hawaii, is already reaping the benefits of taking the time to develop and implement a comprehensive 10-year workforce strategy. The program includes workforce pipeline, development and training programs that have continued during the pandemic.
“Our workforce development plan is critical to achieving our strategic vision of well-being, which means helping our community members live their best lives,” said John Beaman, Adventist Health Chief People and Business Officer. “We’ve already seen major benefits through increased recruitment and more diverse recruitment in our communities as well as improved retention.”
Adventist Health builds strategic workforce plan
In 2019, faced with the expected projected clinician and allied health staffing shortfalls and trends, Adventist Health’s leadership made the strategic decision to prioritize creating a comprehensive workforce plan. The plan encompasses building a large-scale recruiting pipeline, including creating more opportunities for residents in its local communities to join the healthcare workforce. It also incorporates retention, training and professional development programs.
Adventist Health partnered with COPE Health Solutions to develop and implement the plan, a cornerstone of the health system’s 2030 vision. It set out clear goals with specific targets:
- Decrease turnover and turnover costs.
- Increase workforce to accommodate planned system growth in new locations, care programs and services.
- Prepare workforce for delivering population health management under risk-based contracting.
- Improve workforce diversity and inclusion, especially to reflect its local communities. (See Adventist Health Castle Breaks Down Barriers and Builds Relationships to Create a Diverse Workforce Pipeline in this issue for a compelling case study.)
- Form partnerships with community-based organizations, state and national agencies and others to support value-based care.
Executing the plan
Adventist Health and COPE Health Solutions began by undertaking an assessment of existing training and workforce development programs as well as vacancies across the system, cost per hire, cost of lost productivity and other key variables.
Adventist Health zeroed in on 10 critical “to fill” roles and decided to partner with COPE Health Solutions on a bold action plan. It creates workforce pipelines, custom training programs, such as medical assistant training, and programs to address more immediate recruiting and retention needs. The pipelines target college and high school students, recent graduates and community members seeking advancement or career changes. For current employees, the goal is to support staff in working at the top of their roles or licenses while offering more training and career development pathways.
Some key steps so far:
Building its own schools for critical roles. Adventist Health has teamed with COPE Health Solutions to develop and launch two medical assistant programs in 2021. The COPE Health Scholars Medical Assistant Program is a seven-month educational program that combines virtual courses with 200 hours of clinic-based learning and training with patients and clinician mentors. In the first year, Adventist Health’s clinics in Mendocino County (Ukiah and Willits) and Central Valley communities (Kings, Fresno and Tulare counties) are participating.
The programs allow individuals to complete virtual course work at convenient times for them, enabling the students to continue working or handle other personal commitments. The students come together for boot camps to learn procedure skills in-person for four weekends during the program as well. After all completed coursework, they complete their 200 practicum hours with Adventist Health preceptors who have been trained to be excellent teachers for the new Medical Assistant students.
The programs are configured to fit the needs for specific Adventist Health markets and roles recruiting primarily from the local communities to enhance diversity and inclusion while providing existing employees with new career options. Adventist Health is offering tuition scholarships to remove participation barriers for applicants to the medical assistant training programs.
Expanding early engagement. Adventist Health is adding the Health Scholars’ experiential education programs to more markets. Engaging high school and college students, as well as people in mid-career transition, the Health Scholars program provides aspiring healthcare professionals with in-person experience and learning while providing valuable support to patients and clinicians. Graduates of the Health Scholars programs, and all of the training programs including the medical assistant schools, receive a certificate of completion from the Keck Graduate Institute at the Claremont Colleges – COPE Health Solutions’ academic partner.
Health Scholar participants often continue on to professional schools or are directly hired by Adventist Health. Since COPE Health Solutions began Scholar programs with Adventist Health in 2008, more than 4,500 students have participated, and more than 260 individuals have been hired at the conclusion of their programs into non-provider roles.
The burning platform for workforce development
Even after the second wave of the pandemic begins to subside in most U.S. regions, providers are going to face serious, ongoing workforce shortages and staffing challenges.
This fall, for example, staffing shortages have forced hospitals including Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System, Ohio’s Summa Health and New York’s Strong Memorial Hospital to close beds, while Rhode Island Hospital had to shutter part of its emergency department one night in September. The state of Illinois revoked the Trauma II designation of an Elgin hospital after contract negotiations failed with its lone anesthesiology group and the hospital, part of a large health system, cancelled elective procedures. Illinois restored the designation weeks later, after the hospital contracted with another medical provider for anesthesiology services.
No provider can afford to kick the workforce can down the road. It’s time to develop and implement a strategic workforce approach that supports the organization’s mission, growth and shift to value-based care.
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