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Friday, April 19, 2024
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New UW Health programs strive to address healthcare worker shortages

A decreased number of healthcare workers prompted UnityPoint Health-Meriter and UW Health to take action.

Decreased numbers of healthcare workers following the pandemic led UnityPoint Health-Meriter and the University of Wisconsin health system to make changes and updates in hopes of recruiting more employees.

The University of Wisconsin introduced a new program in an attempt to increase the number of nurses working in the health system. The program will cover all educational fees for students working at UW Health. Students will be guided along in the process to obtain a certified nursing assistant credential, associate degree in nursing and a bachelor’s degree in nursing, according to UW Health. 

The UW Health program is funded by a donation from the Verona-based electronic medical records maker Epic Systems Corp.

“Improving access to nursing careers not only bolsters our healthcare workforce but also extends career opportunities to people who might not consider the profession an option today,” said Karina Rohrer-Meck, a nurse and clinical information leader at Epic, in an interview with UW Health. 

According to an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, UnityPoint Health-Meriter aims to gain more workers with an updated training facility located along the Beltline around Todd Drive. The $6.9 million project is funded by donations from Jeff Levy and the Meriter Foundation.

The number of opportunities for youth and adult apprenticeship programs in the medical field will also expand. Apprenticeship areas for adults include licensed practical nursing, paramedics, respiratory therapy, ophthalmology positions, and dietetics and patient nutrition services. 

The goal of the new programs is to target and encourage marginalized communities to be part of the healthcare system and positively influence the current system in place in those areas, according to UW Health.

“We need to inspire interest in the field, we need to diversify our workforce, we need to create pathways to a career and we need to provide the tools to support staff throughout their careers in healthcare,” UW Health CEO Dr. Alan Kaplan said in an interview with UW Health.  

The effects of COVID-19 created a heightened need for healthcare. Despite the low numbers of healthcare workers, it is necessary for programs to recruit more employees. There are shortages in almost all healthcare positions, with nursing being at the top.  

According to Rohrer-Meck, by magnifying the accessibility of nursing programs to students, the hope is that more people will be interested in joining. With the programs covering educational fees, a wide range of people who might have never considered the healthcare field now have the ability to join. 

UW Health previously implemented programs to increase the number of healthcare workers. This year, UW Health designed an internal nurse traveler program to keep more nurses in health facilities in the UW Health system.

The program asks willing nurses to pick up one extra shift per week for six weeks. These nurses are paid an additional $100 per hour above the starting pay for the shifts. The program has worked to increase the nurse retention rate in hospitals, but the new programs are in place to accelerate the process, according to UW Health. 

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“Not only did this program combat staffing issues we were seeing, but it also showed that leadership listened to nurses,” said Jonathan Milton, RN care team leader in the Cardiac ICU at University Hospital, in an interview with UW Health.

Wisconsin is facing a deficit level of around 8,000 healthcare jobs, with approximately 3,500 from the Madison area, according to Bridgett Willey, director of Allied Health Education and Career Pathways at UW Health, in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. 

Aspiring nurses and healthcare workers are facing difficulties getting their licenses because of other labor shortages. The Wisconsin state licensing agency has faced severe understaffing since before the COVID-19 pandemic and the issue has grown progressively worse. 

Currently, there are few employees available to read and approve applications to give licenses to practice. The problem was so severe that, at the beginning of the year, the Wisconsin Council on Mental Health sent letters to the legislature requesting more employees according to an NBC interview

UW Health employees believe with the addition of new programs and the updated nursing facility, stopping the healthcare worker shortage is within reach. 

“Through generous philanthropic support, community partnerships and the innovative thinking Madison is known for, we can rise to this challenge that may define the next decade of healthcare,” Kaplan said.

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