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AHA Outlines How Hospitals Can Survive Future Workforce Changes

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, January 28, 2010

Hospitals must prepare for the retirement of the aging Baby Boomer workforce, improve efficiency and staff satisfaction to retain existing workers, and make the healthcare industry an attractive job choice for a new generation of workers as the labor market tightens in the coming decade, recommends a new long-range report released this week by the American Hospital Association.

"For more than 30 years, the U.S. workforce has been dominated by the growing presence of the 'baby boomers' and their characteristics. The workforce has grown rela¬tively rapidly because of the large number of boomers and the employment of large numbers of women," stated the report Workforce 2015: Strategy Trumps Shortage, written by the AHA's Long-Range Policy Committee.

"The boomers are now beginning to approach retirement, and there is little room for a substantial growth in the percentage of working women. Thus, hospitals and health systems face a workforce environment characterized by limited growth in the number of workers. Large numbers of employers throughout the economy will also need those workers," the report stated.

AHA Chairman Richard P. de Filiippi, a trustee at Cambridge (MA) Health Alliance, and the chair of the Long-Range Policy Committee in 2009, said the report "focused on changing environments" and the changes in how healthcare will be delivered and demographics and cultural attitudes of the future workforce.

"It will be critical for us to work with these new realities in devising strategies for best utilizing scarce human resources—strategies that include using new technologies, accommodating the blend of work cultures and habits of multiple generations and retaining existing employees well into traditional retirement years," he said.

The report's recommendations included a call for hospitals to:

1. Redesign work processes and introduce new technologies to increase efficiency and employee satisfaction; retain existing workers, including those able to retire; and attract the new generation of workers.

2.Help staff develop the skills necessary to work effectively in teams.

3. Prepare to provide care with a smaller workforce, and increase the involvement of patients and families in the care process, including home- and community-based services.

4. Continuously assess whether changes in payment, scope of practice regulations, and work practices are reinforcing the current occupational patterns or encouraging new caregiver occupations and task allocations.

5. Work with colleges and universities to help them rapidly transform their traditional degree programs to meet the requirements of new work models, and to provide the critical thinking skills necessary to work with the increasingly sophisticated technology.

6. Work with employees approaching retirement age to identify attractive options regarding roles, schedules, and benefits for continuing to work full- or part-time.

7. Replace traditional HR policies, which were applied uniformly to all workers with policies and programs that include flexibility and choices, to accommodate the preferences of the multiple workforce generations.

8. Orient young workers to the expectation of patients and staff from the traditional, baby boomer, and Y generations as well as to differences in expectation by gender, race, and ethnicity. This should include more substantial orientation and mentoring programs as well as clear policies and guidelines for access to and use of internet sites, including social networking sites.


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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