Hospital Workforce

While employers across all industries are contending with staffing shortages, hospitals in particular are in dire need of maintaining their workforce. Hospitals need sufficient numbers of people with the right skills in order to meet their goals of providing high-quality and cost-effective health care. An aging workforce, increasing burnout, and lingering pandemic-related worker shortages all combine to put a strain on hospitals and how they serve their communities. Kentucky is particularly sensitive to such shortages, where the state is home to a high number of patients with multiple chronic conditions.

What Is the Scope of the Workforce Problem in Kentucky?

According to a 2023 survey conducted by the Kentucky Hospital Association, hospitals in the state reported a statewide non-physician full-time equivalent (FTE) vacancy rate of 15.3%. At the end of 2022, Kentucky hospitals reported 10,776 FTE vacancies across 14 professional areas, including direct care, support services, and other employees not engaged in direct patient care.

Nurse vacancies make up a large number of these unfilled positions in Kentucky hospitals. Nurses are often called the backbone of health care, as they are a crucial part of almost all care settings, and are the largest profession of direct care providers. According to a report from GlobalData Plc, the supply of nurses in Kentucky is currently unable to maintain a national average level of care. Estimates place the hospital vacancy rate for registered nurses at approximately 17%, with over 5000 registered nurse positions left unfilled in the state at the end of 2021.

An aging workforce and job burnout are contributing factors. Approximately 13% of Kentucky’s hospital workforce are 56 years old or older. Altogether, there are over 3,300 nurses expected to retire by 2033, which is more than 15% of the total registered nurse workforce in the state. Health care workers are increasingly dealing with burnout due to the shortages described above. Longer shifts, stress, and other ramifications related to staff shortages will only exacerbate these problems.

Additionally, Kentucky colleges are currently unprepared to address the rapid decline in qualified health care workers. As a result of a lack of competitive pay, there are faculty shortages in Kentucky health care and nursing schools. Students also have limited access to clinical sites and modern equipment for training.  As healthcare graduates advance from achieving associate and bachelors degrees to masters and doctorates, the number of graduates that continue to practice in Kentucky drops dramatically – while 76% of Kentucky graduates with an associate degree in health care remain in Kentucky, only 42% of those with doctorates do.

2023 Workforce Survey Report cover image

2023 Workforce Survey Report

The KHA Workforce Survey Report provides an in-depth look at the non-physician hospital workforce in Kentucky. (2023) 

Another contributing factor is the increasing prevalence of violence in the health care workplace. According to Time magazine (November 2023), American health care workers now suffer more from workplace violence and injury than any other workforce.

The following statistics illustrate the severity of this crisis (Healthcare Finance, June 2023): 

  • 40% of healthcare workers have experienced at least one incident of workplace violence within the past two years.
  • 34% of those nurses reported emotional or verbal violence.
  • 66% experienced physical or sexual violence.
KHA has published a one-pager on the impact of workplace violence on the profession – “Protect Hospital Caregivers from Workplace Violence“. 

What is the Hospital Talent Pipeline Management Program?

The Kentucky Hospital Association has partnered with the Kentucky Chamber Foundation to create a Talent Pipeline Management (TPM®) program designed for hospitals to build their talent supply chains. The goals of the program are:

  • Build talent supply chains that support career opportunities in our hospitals;
  • Recruit talent into hospitals and educational programs; and
  • Identify and share regional best practices to support critical jobs needed for various types of hospitals.

TPM has worked with its regional affiliates to conduct outreach programs to young people to encourage them to consider a career in health care. For example, the Pikeville Medical Center Academy offers a shadowing program for teenagers. Jackson Purchase Area Health Education Center stays in touch with medical students through its ‘Letters From Home’ program, encouraging student to return home to work after completing medical school. Also, the Future Healthcare Professional program introduces high school students to the field via after-school meetings and day camps.

Learn more about these initiatives by reviewing the TPM Workforce Outreach report.

Kentucky Nurse Workforce Projections Report 2022 - 2035 cover image

Kentucky Nurse Workforce Projections: 2022-2035

In recognition of nurse staffing challenges, KHA commissioned GlobalData Plc to quantify the degree of shortfall and develop projections of future supply and demand for nurses. (2023) 

What is the Outlook for Job Seekers?

As a result of these shortages, the employment outlook for those entering the profession is bright. Health care occupations are projected to grow much faster than other occupations, as noted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationwide, approximately 1.8 million job openings are projected per year, through 2032. Additionally, median annual wages for health care workers is more than $30,000/year higher than the median wages for all other occupations.