With workforce shrinking as baby boomers retire, medical providers find ways to fill the gaps

As more baby boomers retire, a shortage of health care providers is expected to get even worse, especially in rural areas. According to a new report out by the Wisconsin Hospital Association, aging will force more people out of the profession while increasing the demand for providers.

This is not a new problem, especially in Wisconsin, were family practitioners, psychiatrists and OB/GYN care are facing some of the worst shortages. But this report from the WHA gives medical providers a better picture of the impact of the shortages and recommendations to meet these needs before the issues get far worse.

One of the major takeaways from the Wisconsin 2019 Heath Care Workforce Report is how the population is aging. It found the population of people over age 75 will increase by 75% from 2017 to 2032.

“Individuals have more illnesses and medical conditions so their care becomes more complex. And that has implications for health systems,” said Paul Mueller, regional vice president for southwest Wisconsin at Mayo Clinic Health System

But while there will be more demand, there may be fewer health care providers to take care of them as baby boomers in the medical field retire themselves and need their own care. The report estimates nationally 70,000 registered nurses alone will retire annually, with the impact of this felt for the next decade or more.

“We have been focusing on it and trying to figure out ways that we can improve our ability to meet the demands in the future,” said Scott Rathgaber, CEO for Gundersen Health System.

Some efforts do seem to be working. Programs like WARM, the Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine, said that 91 percent of graduates go on to practice in Wisconsin. This is one of the focus areas that the WHA has identified to get people interested in medicine here in the state.

“The workforce is shrinking, and we’re competing with other industries. So we’re trying to attract individuals to think about careers in health care,” Mueller said.

Both Gundersen and Mayo Clinic Health Systems have multiple programs, like their family medicine residencies, to get people interested in the field and staying local.

“We know that if we educate them here, they are more likely to stay. And we have a lot of programs that work on that,” Rathgaber said.

And to fill the need, they’re embracing alternative ways to get people the health care they need. Which won’t just help with a rapidly retiring workforce, but providing economic and convenient care.

“Everyone deserves excellent care and we can deliver excellent care through technology, telehealth being one of those and other virtual care opportunities,” Rathgaber said.

While the gap between the number of jobs available and the amount of people filling those positions continues to grow, there is some good news.

“If you’re a student or somebody thinking about health care as a career, there’s a lot of opportunities,” Mueller said.

There are a number of ways that providers could try to keep baby boomers in the workforce longer. The Wisconsin Hospital Association said employers will need to consider decreasing hours and the number of workdays, changing these employee’s responsibilities or find new roles for them.

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