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Pressure eases, but WI still faces health-care workforce woes

A group of medical workers
A group of medical workers

Critical, but stable. That's how an industry group describes the state of Wisconsin's health-care workforce. Amid some brighter spots, shortages loom large in the face of an aging population.

Annual findings from the Wisconsin Hospital Association show that health systems around the state have made some hiring gains following some worrisome years. However, job vacancy rates are at double-digits for 8 of the 18 health professions detailed in the new report, and registered nurses just moved into that territory.

Ann Zenk, senior vice president for workforce and clinical practice with the Wisconsin Hospital Association, said that's concerning for a key reason.

"Registered nurses make up over half of the hospital and health-system workforce. So, that's very impactful because nurses can fill other gaps on the health-care team," she explained.

The industry faces these headwinds with Wisconsin projected to see one out of every four residents reach retirement age by 2030, putting more pressure on demand for services. Providers and state officials are carrying out efforts to reduce staffing turnover in health care. However, the report has specific recommendations, including regulatory changes and expanded use of technology to help see patients.

In the meantime, Zenk said the current challenges will be noticed by health-care consumers.

"People have to wait longer for a primary-care appointment or a specialty appointment," she said. "Sometimes, they end up needing to come to an urgent-care department or an emergency department to get that access."

Zenk added that creates busier waiting rooms for those settings. And the report's authors say clinics are having a harder time filling certain support staff positions, such as medical assistants and receptionists. As for the bright spots, the WHA says there are more physicians in Wisconsin than there were a decade ago.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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