Hospital Workforce Reflects Wisconsin’s Aging Trend 


Hiring remains flat, but future retirements require vigilant workforce planning

Mary Kay Grasmick, 608-274-1820, 575-7516

MADISON (AUGUST 27, 2014) ------- Hiring in hospitals has remained flat since the recession, however, it could pick up in the near future as baby boomers who postponed retirement plans begin to leave the workforce.

While the economy has caused many employees to put their retirement plans on hold, hospitals across the state are putting strategies in place to ensure they have a workforce to replace those that are leaving.  In some key hospital patient care positions, nearly a quarter of the employees are over age 55 according to data collected by the WHA Information Center (WHAIC).   

Almost 20 percent of the registered nurses working in hospitals and 35 percent of the laboratory technologists are more than 55 years of age, according to WHAIC.  Hospital pharmacists are also older with 22 percent over 55 years old.  Occupational and physical therapists are still among the youngest workers in the hospital.   However, 19 percent of respiratory therapists fall within the 55 and older age bracket.

“Hospitals have made accommodations for older employees in the workforce, but time will eventually win out, and the more experienced employees, including nurses, will leave the workforce,” according to Jodi Johnson, WHA vice president, workforce and clinical practice.

Hiring has remained relatively flat in hospitals since about 2008, according to the WHAIC annual hospital personnel survey. As older employees delay retirement and work shifts to the outpatient unit, hospitals have had less need to hire new employees. However, hospitals are factoring a tightening of the nursing workforce into their workforce strategic plans as retirements over the next decade are expected to outstrip hospitals’ ability to hire experienced nurses. The current statewide vacancy rate for nurses is 6.8 percent, a slight increase from 6.0 percent in 2011. 

 “While some nurses over age 55 may be in the workforce for another decade--and that may seem like a long time--we have to take into consideration that it takes two to four years for a nurse to complete his or her education,” Johnson said. “We must remain vigilant in our workforce planning activities and continue to work with the education community to ensure that we are training the next generation of workers to meet the rising demand for care.”

At present, the challenges of workforce planning focus on preparing a workforce that has the right skills and competencies needed to function in a new care environment that is based on a patient-centric, team-based care model.

“Current and accurate data is an essential element of workforce planning. WHAIC collects data on 33 key positions in Wisconsin hospitals,” said WHAIC Vice President Debbie Rickelman.  “It is a service and capability that hospitals value as they prepare today to meet the workforce needs for tomorrow.”

The WHAIC specializes in providing data to health care organizations, consumers, payers and policymakers to help guide and inform their decisions. WHAIC annually collects personnel data from all the hospitals in the state.