Jun 23, 2022 - Business

NWA needs health care workers

Illustration of a nurse's scrubs, stethoscope and mask, standing with no nurse inside them.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Recruiting and retaining a robust health care workforce will be essential in the coming years as the industry struggles to meet increasing demand, according to a new report.

Driving the news: Heartland Forward, a Bentonville-based nonprofit focused on the economy in "the heartland" — 20 states in the Midwest and South — released a report outlining challenges in the health care workforce and strategies to tackle them.

  • The report zeroed in on five metros within the heartland, including NWA; Durant, Oklahoma; Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; and Oxford, Mississippi.
  • It focuses on positions that require no more than a bachelor's degree, such as nurses, medical assistants, lab technicians and phlebotomists.

State of play: The Northwest Arkansas Council lists 488 job openings for nursing, psychiatric and home health aides, which typically require a high school diploma and have a median income of about $26,000.

  • The region also has 295 open positions for registered nurses, who must have a bachelor's degree and who earn a median income of $62,000 annually.

What they're saying: While an aging population and health problems increase demand for care, factors such as job dissatisfaction exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic make it difficult to keep a healthy supply of workers, according to the report.

Details: The report outlines four challenges including:

  • Awareness — potential employees are unaware of career opportunities.
  • Education — not enough instructors, and clinical learning opportunities are lacking.
  • Incentives — inadequate pay, benefits, transportation, child care and job satisfaction that make it difficult to attract and retain workers.
  • Pipeline — lack of coordination in supplying workers.

The bottom line: Heartland Forward's research outlines recommendations such as: improving pay and benefits for health care workers, providing more clinical opportunities like internships for students and trainees, increasing flexibility around training by using technology and creating comprehensive pathways for opportunity and career growth.

  • The report cites Washington Regional Medical Center and NorthWest Arkansas Community College's new program that allows nursing rotations on nights and weekends as an example of increased flexibility.

What to watch: Some new-ish initiatives exist to curb this problem, such as Springdale-based nonprofit Excellerate Foundation's Upskill NWA program designed to make it easier for low-income students to get medical education or training.

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