Investing In Health Care Workers Is An Investment In Hawaii’s People

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In 2018, when faced with mounting health care job vacancies, a volunteer committee of health care, community, and education leaders banded together to form the Hawaii Healthcare Workforce Initiative, coordinated by the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

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The primary goal of the workforce initiative is to match the supply, produced by educational institutions, with the demands, or needs of health care employers.

Since the HWI began its work, a number of innovations and workforce programs have emerged and been implemented. The good news as highlighted in the recent release of the 2022 Hawaii Healthcare Workforce Initiative Report, is that the early programs have been an unqualified success.

The not-so-good news is that demand has increased at a faster rate than the supply, resulting in 3,873 patient-facing, health care job openings (excluding physicians) in health care across the state. Hawaii’s health care job vacancy rate has increased 76% since HWI’s inaugural report in 2019.

The pandemic highlighted the stark fact that Hawaii struggles to care for all of its own health care needs. The report shows how the pandemic made those struggles worse, despite the efforts of all the partners in the workforce initiative.

We were fortunate during each of the delta and omicron surges, with material support from the State of Hawaii and FEMA, to bring in over 800 mainland clinical staff to help reinforce our resident health care professionals. The HWI report shows that 17% of the non-physician, patient-facing positions are currently unfilled, up from 10% just three years ago.

Hawaii’s health care job vacancy rate has increased 76% since the Healthcare Workforce Initiative’s inaugural report was released in 2019. Courtesy: The Queen’s Health Systems/2020

The innovative way forward is to meet the workers where they are. We are working to share the many benefits of a health care career with high school, undergraduate, and graduate students in Hawaii. We are also creating transition-to-employment programs for them to seamlessly enter the workforce and advance their careers while continuing to earn a living.

We believe an earn-while-you-learn approach provides optimal conditions for both students and employers. Employers get to retain their employees and fill higher-level positions and employees get to earn more over time and better provide for their families without leaving the workforce.

These “glidepaths” include opportunities for entry-level workers to advance their careers or graduates to gain the added skills needed for specialty positions, such as labor and delivery nurses and others. There is demonstrated success from HWI’s collaboration:

  • The Healthcare Association of Hawaii teamed up with the University of Hawaii Community College system to create entry-level health certification programs for professions such as nurse aide, phlebotomist, and patient service representative. This transition-to-employment program has already graduated more than 350 students in 40 classes.
  • A new earn-and-learn program launching this month creates a glidepath for certified nurse aides to become qualified to work as licensed practical nurses. This combination of online curriculum and hands-on clinical education at the place of work was created collaboratively with the employers: Ohana Pacific Health and Hale Makua Health Services; the educators: the University of Hawaii Maui College and UH Community Colleges; and important collaborators such as the Hawaii State Center for Nursing and UNITE HERE! Local 5 and their training organizations, BSH and the HARIETT Training Trust.

Additional programs, described in the HWI report, address workforce needs in such a way that people employed in health care no longer have to leave work to attend full-time education in order to advance their careers. Meeting the employees where they are has been crucial to the early success of these programs.

As the HWI continues to collaborate with the many other groups in Hawaii who seek the same outcome, we’re more determined than ever to face this growing need — not just for our local health care organizations, but for every Hawaii resident.

We all need to access health care at some point. Taking care of the health care employees who take care of us will remain our top priority.