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Eight Healthcare HR Trends for 2010

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, January 4, 2010

Here—in no particular order of importance—are a handful of issues, ideas, and trends affecting the healthcare HR arena that I think will be with us in the coming year.

1. The healthcare sector will continue to see job growth. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports have shown healthcare to be one of the few sectors in the overall economy that has seen job growth since the Great Recession officially started in December 2007.

Admittedly, healthcare job growth slowed in 2009. But an uptick in job growth over the last three months suggests the healthcare sector may enjoy a hiring resurgence in 2010. For one thing, the healthcare reform bill that is expected to pass Congress is supposed to insure another 30 million Americans, making the need for healthcare workers even more acute. And, even if healthcare reform doesn't pass, we will still be a nation that is aging at an unstoppable pace.

The graying demographic will demand more healthcare workers. Who's hiring? If recent trends hold up, hospitals will continue to hire, but the ambulatory services sector has been accounting for nearly half of the new hires in the healthcare sector. Census Bureau data also show that ambulatory services have generated more revenues than hospitals for the past three years.

2. The hunt for qualified healthcare IT workers will intensify. HHS has pretty much acknowledged that we don't have enough qualified workers to create and maintain the complex, interoperable healthcare computer systems that must be in place by 2014. That's why HHS last month earmarked $112 million in grants for various IT workforce development programs.

HHS also earmarked $60 million in grants last month for researchers to target "breakthrough advances" that overcome barriers to the adoption and meaningful use of health IT. It was only last week that HHS came up with a definition of "meaningful use." One would have thought that these core issues would have been resolved before the federal mandate on hospitals to invest billions on healthcare IT.

3. Wash your hands! HR will be asked to improve employee awareness on this very important—yet remarkably basic—healthcare issue. Be creative! Then send me your ideas.

4. Coming soon to a hospital near you: Unions. If you are still in denial about the full frontal movement on the healthcare sector by organized labor, you are probably in the wrong job. In December three large RN unions merged to form the 150,000-member National Nurses United. They are quite blunt about their objectives. "We are going to make sure we organize every single direct-care RN in this country. RNs and our patients deserve to have a national nurses' movement that can advocate for them," said Deborah Burger, RN, one of three charter co-presidents of NNU. This is not empty talk. NNU is seasoned, smart, well-organized, and they have the financial wherewithal to make good on their vows.

The Service Employees International Union is also expected to make a push for just about every other healthcare worker. Assuming that healthcare reform winds down in 2010, a Democratic Congress and a labor-friendly President Obama could rekindle their support for the now-dormant Employee Free Choice Act, the single most important piece of pro-labor legislation in at least 50 years.

5. Mandatory staffing ratios. It's quite simple. The best way for unions to increase their dues-paying membership is to make staffing ratios a top issue. It's coming to your state. Bank on it.

6. Cracking down on patient confidentiality. It was big news when a California hospital worker sold to a tabloid newspaper confidential information about the late Farah Fawcett's battle with terminal cancer.

Healthcare workers at other hospitals were fired for snooping into the records of Nadia "Octomom" Suleman and California First Lady Maria Shriver, to name a few. It's not just the high-profile cases in LaLa Land, however. Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, and dozens of other social media, create any number of new outlets for patient confidentiality violations in every town in the nation.

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