MADISON, Wisc. — An aging workforce and a spike in worker departures has created unprecedented levels of vacancy rates in health care professions in 2021, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s (WHA’s) 2022 Health Care Workforce Report.
The workforce report reveals Wisconsin is suffering from a large nursing shortage due to burnout from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as retirements.
A trend called the "Silver Tsunami" has long been cited in WHA's report as a cause for concern, officials said. The Silver Tsunami gets its name from "increasing pressure on the state’s health care workforce driven by retirements within health care fields at the same time demand for health care by an aging population is rising," according to WHA.
Health care workers are also burned out from the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years.
"Added to the stress placed upon hospital staff as they responded to unprecedented demand for health care services in 2021 driven by COVID-19 and pent-up demand for delayed care were pressures to fill gaps in the state’s public health response and to accommodate systemic failures in the continuum of care," WHA said in a news release. "Hospital and health system staff were called upon to educate their communities about COVID-19 spread and ways to avoid infection, administer COVID-19 vaccines and conduct COVID-19 testing."
WHA said at one point in 2021, it is estimated that 600 patients were occupying state hospital b eds awaiting admission to a nursing home or other long-term facility.
All these factors resulted in an increase in vacancies in 13 of 17 professions tracked in WHA's Health Care Workforce Report, with seven positions registering double-digit vacancy rates, WHA said.
Registered nurse vacancy rates were the highest they’ve been since 2005 in 2021, leading WHA to note, “The nursing shortage has arrived.”
"Vacancy rates, according to the report, are highest for frontline clinical and technical staff and lower in professions with a longer runway to practice, apart from occupational and physical therapists, where vacancy rates rose sharply," WHA said in a statement.
To read the full report on the nursing shortage, click here.