Personnel shortages were rated as hospital CEOs' top concern in 2021, according to a recent survey from the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), marking the first time in nearly 20 years that staffing has been rated a higher concern than financial challenges.
Hospital CEOs' top concern is staffing
For the survey, ACHE asked 1,327 community hospital executives to rank 11 problems affecting their organizations in order of how pressing the problems are and to specifically identify areas of concern within each category.
Personnel shortages of all types ranked as the top problem, followed by financial challenges, patient safety and quality, and behavioral health and addiction issues.
Of the 310 responding CEOs, 94% said that a lack of RNs was the most pressing staffing issue their hospital faced, while 85% said a lack of technicians and 67% said a lack of therapists.
According to Deborah Bowen, CEO of ACHE, these survey responses represent the first time since 2004 that concerns over staffing challenges have surpassed financial challenges.
"Both long- and short-term solutions are needed to address the shortages in critical frontline staff shown in our study to ensure hospitals have workforces that can meet the demands for safe, high-quality care both today and in the future," she said.
Alan Kaplan, CEO at UW Health, noted how staffing challenges have become a higher priority than patient care at his hospital.
"My whole career has focused on taking care of patients and making sure they have a good experience, stay safe and receive quality care. Me, as an emergency physician, is secondary to that cause," Kaplan said. "This is the first time in my whole career that I put the workforce ahead of patients because it is in such dire straits—if we don't attend to the workforce, we won't be able to take care of patients."
Health care sector sees job gains in January
Meanwhile, the health care sector added an estimated 18,000 jobs in January, an increase from 14,300 in December, according to a report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.
The largest job gains were seen by physicians' offices, which added an estimated 9,700 jobs in January, up from 3,200 in December. In addition, hospitals added an estimated 3,400 new jobs in January, up from 2,000 in December.
Meanwhile, the home health sector lost 1,700 jobs in January after seeing a gain of 1,800 jobs in December, while medical and diagnostic laboratories lost 200 jobs in January.
Overall, the U.S. unemployment rate increased from 3.9% in December to 4% in January, according to the report, with the number of people reporting they couldn't work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic increasing from 3.1 million in December to 6 million in January. (Kacik, Modern Healthcare, 2/4; Gamble, Becker's Hospital Review, 2/4; ACHE release, 2/4; Bannow, Modern Healthcare, 2/4; Lagasse, Healthcare Finance, 2/4; Blackman, HealthLeaders Media, 2/4)