‘Alarming’: New report highlights staffing concerns in health care facilities

Three nurses put on personal protective equipment.
A new report from the Minnesota Hospitals Association shows that the overall job vacancy rate has tripled.
Pat Christman | Mankato Free Press

A new report from the Minnesota Hospitals Association shows a sharp uptick in the job vacancy rate for health care workers across the state. 

The report, which examines demographic data from 77,128 workers in 97 hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities across the state, found that the overall job vacancy rate in Minnesota has more than tripled.

“So, the main bottom line here is that the vacancy rate in this year 2022, has gone up to 21 percent, as compared to only about six percent, last year in 2021,” said Dr. Rahul Koranne, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association. “So that puts an incredible strain on hospitals that are open 365 days a year and providing care services to communities and Minnesotans across the state.”

Along with more jobs being open, the report also found more workers with part-time status, particularly for younger professionals, with 44 percent of hospital employees overall working less than full time and 57 percent of registered nurses. The report says that makes it “more difficult for hospitals and health systems to meet operational needs.” 

Health care facilities also continue to see higher turnover among newer workers, with 25 percent of workers who have less than five years of experience leaving their workplace. Meanwhile, workers who have more experience (5+ years) only saw 14 percent of people leave. 

“What this does for the availability of care is why we are so concerned, and why we are bringing this to the attention of our federal and state lawmakers,” Koranne said. “We have a legal and ethical obligation to be always open, we are the ultimate safety net for health care. That's why when we don't have the staff that can affect care for Minnesotans, which is really worrisome.”

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Staffing levels and retention have been central issues in the ongoing negotiations between the Minnesota nurses’ union and over a dozen hospitals across the state. During the three-day strike in September, several nurses said burnout from the pandemic exacerbated staffing shortages. 

The workforce shortage — which the report calls “nothing short of alarming” — also impacts the bottom line. According to a MHA analysis of hospital finances “found that the median hospital and health system operating margin for the first and second quarter of 2022 was -1.5 percent versus 2.2 percent in 2021, a 172 percent drop year over year.”

“That's the margin that is invested in new innovations, in investments into the community, in new programs and services in serving the community and individuals around in their community in new and different ways,” Koranne said. “All of that can be very challenging when the bottom line or the operating margin is negative.”

To address these concerns, the MHA is advocating for several solutions, including: rethinking government reimbursements, growing the pipeline of health care workers, increasing accessibility in the field through loan forgiveness and scholarships and simplifying the administrative process at licensing boards.

You can read the full report here.