Retiring Health Care Professionals May Strain An Overburdened System

News outlets report on challenges and opportunities within the health care workforce.

The Washington Post: "Since the passage of the health-care law in March, much has been said about the coming swarm of millions of retiring baby boomers and the strain they will put on the nation's health-care system. That's only half the problem. Overlooked in the conversation is a particular group of boomers: doctors and nurses who are itching to call it quits. Health-care economists and other experts say retirements in that group over the next 10 to 15 years will greatly weaken the health-care workforce and leave many Americans who are newly insured under the new legislation without much hope of finding a doctor or nurse." The Association of American Medical Colleges' Center for Workforce Studies estimates that nearly 40 percent of doctors are 55 or older. "About a third of the much larger nursing workforce is 50 or older, and about 55 percent expressed an intention to retire in the next 10 years, according to a Nursing Management Aging Workforce Survey by the Bernard Hodes Group" (Fears, 6/14).

The Des Moines Register, on a program at Mercy College of Health Sciences and the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services: "Over six years, the partnership has helped 50 to 100 refugees pursue opportunities that may not have been possible in their home countries. The success also led to a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to offer an expanded program known as Pathways to Health Care Careers Iowa. The grant will enable the bureau, Mercy College and Iowa Workforce Development to train 274 refugees and legal immigrants in various health care fields. The grant will help address an expected shortage of health care professionals in the future and reduce health care costs by diversifying the work force and encouraging care sooner, said Theresa Smith, associate dean of Allied Health at Mercy College of Health Sciences and Pathways project manager" (Villanueva-Whitman, 6/14).

The Philadelphia Inquirer, on the rise of patient navigators who help people who have been hospitalized get needed health care and insurance services, learn about how to deal with their health conditions and seek future care. "The very existence of these navigators is evidence of a health-care system gone a little mad, but experts don't foresee a cure for that. Even if the system got simpler -- an unlikely prospect -- the human body is complex, and medical treatments increasingly involve multiple specialists and tailored treatments. Hospitals and insurers are figuring out that it's too much for many patients to keep straight, especially while anxiety is blowing circuits in their brains. … The University of Pennsylvania Health System has had employees doing patient navigation for a decade, but the role has taken off in its cancer network of 13 community hospitals in the last couple of years. Rummel estimated it now has up to 15 navigators … Health-care reform likely will encourage more care coordination because of its potential to increase efficiency and reduce duplication of efforts" (Burling, 6/13).

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