Bipartisan Group of State Lawmakers Hosts WHA Workforce Capitol Briefing

More than 2,200 reached on Facebook as WHA hosts first live briefing

January 22, 2019

North Hearing Room January 17 to attend WHA’s 2018 Health Care Workforce Report Legislative Briefing. The session provided examples of how past legislation has been successful, as well as new recommendations for lawmakers to focus on during this legislative session in support of Wisconsin hospital and health systems’ workforce needs.

State Senator Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), the newly appointed chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, started the briefing by recognizing the partnership that exists between WHA and the Legislature. In particular, he noted legislation he authored that was passed in 2017 to fund new training opportunities for advanced practice clinicians and allied health professionals in rural communities as a component of the Rural Wisconsin Initiative. Testin added that he often hears concerns from hospital leaders who are worried about the strain aging demographics will place on the health care system in the next 20 years.

WHA President/CEO Eric Borgerding thanked Sen. Testin and the bipartisan group of legislators who co-hosted WHA’s briefing, as well as other members of the Legislature for their continued partnership. Borgerding highlighted a number of significant bipartisan bills the Legislature has passed in recent years that are all part of the puzzle of ensuring Wisconsin has the workforce it needs to continue delivering some of the highest quality health care in the nation.

WHA Vice President of Workforce and Clinical Practice, Ann Zenk, presented WHA’s data-driven recommendations for growing and utilizing the health care workforce. 

“One of the unique challenges faced by health care is that demographics drive demand and impact workforce supply. An aging population is dramatically increasing demand just as an aging workforce is rapidly approaching retirement and shrinking the supply of available workers,” Zenk noted. “We must implement policy solutions that allow a multi-disciplinary team to work at the top of their training, education and experience.”   

WHA’s 2018 workforce report provides solutions to grow the labor force needed to care for Wisconsin’s citizens now and in the future, but also projects that Wisconsin’s health care labor force will be unable to grow fast enough to meet demand. Teams and technology will be key factors in using the workers Wisconsin has to extend access. 

Zenk used psychiatry to explain. “With 55 of 72 Wisconsin counties experiencing a shortage of psychiatrists, 15% of Wisconsin’s psychiatrists over the age of 65, and the pathway to practice 12-plus years, we will need to use team-based care and telemedicine to get mental health care to all corners of our state.”   

While WHA and state policymakers are working together to break down barriers to team-based care and promote efficient use of technology in the health care environment, Wisconsin hospitals are working hard to grow Wisconsin’s physician, advanced practice clinicians, and allied health profession workforce. Two WHA members traveled to Madison to share the work they are doing with WHA-crafted physician residency, advanced practice clinician and allied health workforce training grants.  

Sherry Willems of HSHS St. Clare Memorial Hospital in Oconto Falls introduced a video that appeared on WBAY-TV2, highlighting the $55,762 training grant the hospital received that was made possible by the policies enacted as part of the Legislature’s Rural Wisconsin Initiative. The funds will be used to support training efforts for sonography, physical and occupational therapists, and nursing assistants—all areas of need in the hospital and region.

Sandy Anderson, President of four Ascension hospitals in northern Wisconsin, discussed how they have been able to utilize physician residency and advanced practice clinician training grants to increase staff for high demand fields and boost skills for existing staff. For example, Ascension will cross-train certified nursing assistants (CNAs) with operating room (OR) technicians so the hospital can increase OR capacity when needed, and then flex down and utilize the same staff as CNAs. 

“This was a great opportunity to show lawmakers and staff exactly what the important legislation they have passed has meant for hospitals,” said Zenk. “At the same time, there is much more to be done to meet the workforce challenges Wisconsin will continue to face, and we look forward to working again with the Legislature to accomplish even more this session.”

This story originally appeared in the January 22, 2019 edition of WHA Newsletter