A Wake-up Call for Health Care Leaders

September 15, 2014

The recent Brookings report on the growing pre-baccalaureate health care workforce should serve as a wake-up call to health care leaders seeking to address increased demand for health services.

A number of trends—the convergence of increased insurance enrollment fueled by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), an aging population, retiring health workers, shifts to outpatient care and cost effective care management—are placing these workers on the front lines of expanded care.

The ACA’s emphasis on accountable care organizations, primary care medical homes and the many new roles in home and personal care means that we need to think differently about pre-baccalaureate workers. Sooner rather than later, the pre-baccalaureate workforce will predominate and increase in importance in caring for our aging moms and dads in America. 

How will we train all of these new frontline workers and ensure that they contribute to the fullest extent of their training and capabilities? How will we keep pace with the demand for home health aides, personal care aides, medical assistants, LPNs, RNs and case managers? How do we prevent the professional and educational bureaucracies from imposing burdensome educational requirements and practice restrictions? (They have done it before!)

How do we mitigate, through educational opportunities, the trend of hospitals employing 80 percent or more bachelor’s-level RNs vs. pre-baccalaureate RNs and LPNs? How do we incentivize hospitals and health care systems to provide education and training programs to meet the quality, service and efficiency needed in this new larger work force? How do we motivate these pre-baccalaureate workers with career growth opportunities allowing them to move up the ladder to living wages? (That is how I went from hospital janitor to hospital president!)

Let’s wake up now to the emerging trends in our health care workforce, and gear up for the recruitment, training and educational needs of pre-baccalaureate frontline health care workers. Career paths based on solid education and training will separate the leaders from the followers in health care.