Workforce shortages in health care are nothing new. And although they have been somewhat lessened by the recession, all signs point to a tightening labor market overall with a shortage of physicians, nurses and other caregivers in coming years, according to a new American Hospital Association report. This poses a serious challenge for hospitals as they prepare to care for a growing number of older Americans, often with multiple chronic illnesses.

Meeting this looming challenge requires fresh thinking about the workforce and new strategies for managing our most important asset—our human resources.

"Workforce 2015: Strategy Trumps Shortage" was developed by the AHA's Long-Range Policy Committee, whose deliberations were based on the latest research on workforce demographics and trends, as well as presentations by health care experts.

According to the report, there are three keys to maintaining an adequate workforce in the coming decade:

  1. Redesigning work processes and introducing new technologies to increase efficiency, effectiveness and employee satisfaction;
  2. Retaining current workers, including those able to retire; and
  3. Attracting the new generation of workers.

The report then describes 10 specific actions that can be taken to support these solutions, such as introducing new technologies to help with work process redesign, accommodating the blend of work cultures and habits of multiple generations, and retaining existing employees well into their traditional retirement years through flexible approaches to roles, schedules and benefits.

A healthy workforce is critical to hospitals' mission. Our commitment to caring for our patients and communities simply cannot be carried out unless we have a sufficient number of competent and caring workers to care for an aging population. As the AHA's report makes clear, it is up to hospital leaders—especially the board of trustees and senior executives—to take responsibility for the issue and develop the strategies and solutions that can trump the coming long-term shortages.

You can read the report by clicking here.

Stephen Smart, D.D.S. (scsmart@suddenlink.net), is COG chair and chair of Medical Center of South Arkansas in El Dorado, Ark.