WHA Presents State Capitol Briefing on “Silver Tsunami” Workforce Report

January 30, 2020

Building off of the attention garnered following the successful release of the 2019 Wisconsin Health Care Workforce Report, and in partnership with the chairs and ranking members of the Assembly Committee on Workforce Development and the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Commerce and Local Government, WHA provided a special Workforce Capitol Briefing for state policymakers and staff Jan. 30, 2020 in the Capitol’s stately North Hearing Room.

State Assembly Reps. Warren Petryk (R-Town of Washington) and Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) and State Senators Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac) and Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) hosted the briefing. Leaders from Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development (DWD), UW Health and Mayo Clinic Health System Northwest  Wisconsin joined WHA in presenting workforce trends, challenges and successful solutions to address local and statewide needs. The WisconsinEye network broadcast this briefing live to a statewide internet and cable audience, and will produce a video of the briefing that will be available on demand.

Representative Petryk welcomed more than 70 people in attendance on a busy day in the Capitol. Petryk noted the importance of partnership to reach solutions to address a “disappearing workforce,” as ever-growing numbers of the baby boom generation reach retirement age every day. Petryk said his roles of Chair of the Assembly Committee on Workforce Development and Vice Chair of the Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care provide a unique perspective: “I am acutely aware of how important the link is between addressing our state’s workforce and the economic well-being of our state,” Rep. Petryk said. “We’re pleased to host this workforce briefing today because we know one of the largest workforce needs is for health care workers.”

Petryk also noted the importance of an adequately resourced and supported health care workforce. “I’ve been proud to work with many of you to increase Medicaid reimbursement for hospitals, psychiatrists, nursing homes and personal care workers and look forward to continue that work into the future.”

Petryk closed with the hosts’ hope for the briefing. “We hope you come away from today’s briefing with a better understanding of the current state of Wisconsin’s health care workforce, and leave with ideas on what we can do to strengthen the workforce and prepare for the challenges ahead.” That charge was a perfect segue for the morning’s roster of presenters: WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding, WHA Vice President Workforce and Clinical Practice Ann Zenk, DWD Assistant Deputy Secretary Danielle Williams, UW Health Director Allied Health Education and Career Pathways Bridgett Willey, Ph.D. and Mayo Clinic Health System Chair of Education Donn Dexter, M.D.

Borgerding set the stage by highlighting recent examples of bipartisan legislation that will help address Wisconsin’s health care workforce shortage, such as expanding Graduate Medical Education programs, funding for training advance practice clinicians and allied professionals and enabling even better use of telemedicine technology. “We’re appreciative and proud of what we have been able to accomplish with our state legislators, state agencies and the administration, but there’s more work to be done,” Borgerding said. “Unlike other industries, health care’s work is often driven by forces we can’t control, like the demographic changes we’re undergoing right now.”

WHA’s Zenk then dove into the highlights of the issues arising from the arrival of the “Silver Tsunami” – the waves of baby boom generation retirements. The projections are stark: by 2032 the population over 75 years old will grow by 75% while the population under age 18 will grow by a scant 3.5%; in fact, the state’s population older than age 65 will double by 2030, causing health care demand to increase by at least 30%.

“With a shrinking workforce and rapidly increasing health care demand, we must of course grow our health care workforce faster,” Zenk said. “But we need to also make sure that we’re working smart: attracting workers to health care pathways, growing the workforce where most needed, forming our health care teams and allowing team members to work at the top of their skill level to meet the needs of patients and better leveraging technology to support patients and the health care workforce.” 

DWD’s Williams then addressed the group, describing how state government agencies can partner with health care entities through state initiatives designed to support workforce growth and career pathways. Williams described a state apprenticeship program that helped UW Health offer approved classroom and clinical instruction for a Medical Assistant (MA) Registered Apprenticeship. 

UW Health’s Dr. Willey shared more about the successful apprenticeship program and also described the myriad ways UW Health is promoting more pathways to employment for both clinical and non-clinical health care staff. Willey shared that more programs are currently in the works, with the potential for apprenticeships in more clinical areas. “Entering one of our apprenticeship classrooms is entering a very happy place as UW Health employees pursue the opportunities for advancement they have been looking for,” Dr. Willey said.

Mayo Clinic Health System’s Dr. Dexter also provided an example of how public-private partnerships are growing and strengthening Wisconsin’s health care workforce. He shared how his health care system is utilizing a state Department of Health Services advanced practice clinician (APC) training grant to expand the capabilities of physician assistants and nurse practitioners in emergency medicine ultrasound technology. Dr. Dexter said that Mayo easily filled their two courses, and have a waiting list of APCs from Mayo and other health care organizations waiting and wanting to participate in the training. “This type of training improves the spread of this critical education to many facilities that would otherwise need to spend thousands of dollars to send their PAs and NPs to courses out of their area or even out of state,” Dr. Dexter said. “We’re happy for the opportunity to partner with the state and with other organizations to improve care for our patients – that’s what it’s all about.”

WHA’s Zenk then returned with a critical message for policymakers on how government regulation hinders the health care workforce. Spending the time to fulfill the wide array of government requirements unnecessarily lengthens a clinician’s workday and makes providers less available to their patients and less satisfied in their chosen profession. “In health care, we aren’t seeing technology relieve the heavy lifting for our workforce,” Zenk said, “and a big part of that is the way rules and regulations add more clicks in electronic health records and more hoops providers must jump though to use technology.

“An important first step is to avoid creating more regulation,” Zenk said.

Zenk summarized the briefing by sharing WHA’s 2019 workforce recommendations for policymakers: invest in targeted workforce recruitment and retention, leverage team-based integrated care delivery models, and use technology wisely.

Contact Ann Zenk with questions or ideas regarding the health care workforce or WHA’s 2019 Wisconsin Health Care Workforce Report.

This story originally appeared in the January 30, 2020 edition of WHA Newsletter