As the chief operating officer of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, those statistics hit home. That is why we created a guidance document to recruit, train and retain a resilient and diverse health care workforce in our state. This document, crafted with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is a follow up to our “Emerging From COVID-19: An Action Plan for a Healthier State,” released in April 2021.
The guidance document outlines steps that must be taken to develop data infrastructure and identifies issues that need to be addressed to ensure that our health care workforce is adequately supported.
The development of this document was the result of extensive research and interviews with more than 50 subject matter experts from a variety of health care professions, state government agencies and academic institutions.
The timing of this release is critical, as many experts believe we are entering the “endemic stage” of the COVID-19 pandemic that cost New Jersey more than 34,000 lives. It is that staggering number that is top of mind as we contemplate how to ensure that our health care infrastructure and workforce are adequately prepared for future health care emergencies. Furthermore, the need to bolster and prepare our workforce for the future is set against the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on our health care workers.
At the center of the discussion about how to bolster our health care workforce for the future is the recognition that New Jersey does not currently have a statewide health care workforce strategic plan. That means that there is no statewide, publicly available repository of data to analyze and use to develop and deploy a resilient and diverse health care workforce. This lack of data inhibits the state from truly understanding our current health care workforce, including equitable representation of the communities it serves, its overall education and experience and where and what type of care is accessible to patients.
It is difficult to plan for a future health care emergency if you don’t have an adequate understanding of what workforce resources currently exist. Other models have been deployed that could serve as a blueprint for New Jersey to successfully collect and analyze health care workforce data.
New York is one of nine health workforce research centers in the United States sponsored by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and has developed the Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWS) to collect health care workforce data to support statewide decision making. Similarly, Oregon has created its Health Care Workforce Reporting Program (HCWRP) to collect data to better understand its health care workforce, to adjust its incentive programs and to meet its needs. Closer to home, the New Jersey Collaborating Center for Nursing (NJCCN) was established by law in 2002 to develop a strategic plan for the continued development of an adequate nursing workforce, in number, education and training, to meet the needs of New Jersey residents.
With the development of its own statewide health care workforce reporting program, New Jersey would be better positioned to prepare and support its workforce for future health care emergencies. Specifically, data could be used to target recruiting professionals where numbers are depleted (like certified nursing assistants and home health aides), incentivize health care professionals to pursue in-demand career paths and inform retention strategies for employers.
Without a resilient and diverse health care workforce, equitable access to critical services when they are most needed will be jeopardized. The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the immense pressure on our health care workers, the lack of access to affordable care and disproportionate impact on historically underserved communities that must be addressed.
We need a resilient and diverse health care workforce to provide the access to care our residents need during both emergent and non-emergent times. To do that, more information is needed from every health care professional licensed or certified by the state and should be made publicly available to inform a comprehensive, statewide health care workforce strategy.