Southeastern Minnesota’s healthcare industry has regained jobs lost during the pandemic, but nursing shortages persist – Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER – Health care jobs in southeastern Minnesota have rebounded since the COVID-19 pandemic and are at the highest level ever recorded, according to a new analysis from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

However, there remains a worker shortage, as hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities were short-staffed before 2020. And job gains in recent years are not evenly distributed across subsectors of the care industry. medical.

In the 11-county southeastern Minnesota region, health care and social assistance accounts for 27.3% of total employment, with 66,409 jobs. Between 2019 and 2023, the number of jobs in this industry increased by 0.2%, offsetting job losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Employment in the health care and social assistance industry has regained all jobs lost due to the pandemic and now has the largest number of jobs ever recorded in southeastern Minnesota,” the DEED report states. “Two of the three subsectors have seen job gains since 2019.”

While hospitals added 717 jobs (a 4.8% increase) and outpatient healthcare services gained 590 jobs (a 1.8% increase) from 2019, the third subsector, care facilities residential and nursing, has seen an 8.5% decline in employment.

“This is not just a statewide trend, but a national trend,” said Nichole Mattson, vice president of strategic initiatives for Care Providers of Minnesota, a nonprofit group that advocates for long-term care providers. “Our sector has not recovered many of the job losses that other health care sectors have.”

Skilled nursing facilities have been hardest hit in southeastern Minnesota, losing 1,293 jobs (a 23% decrease) since 2019. Employment has also declined in residential facilities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as mental health and substance abuse facilities.

However, assisted living residences have gained 664 jobs between 2019 and 2023, an increase of 31.4%.

“Looking at the data over time, it appears that people are choosing to stay in retirement communities and assisted living facilities before moving into nursing homes,” said Amanda O’Connell, DEED Southeast and South Central regional analyst. . “In other words, employment declines in one area may be offset by employment gains in another area, depending on consumer sentiment.”

At Sacred Heart Care Center in Austin, which offers skilled nursing, assisted living and adult day programs, filling open positions remains a challenge.

“We have openings in every department,” said Sacred Heart administrator Laura Borris. “I would say every department has at least one opening right now.”

Borris said the highest turnover is among frontline workers, particularly certified nursing assistants. Regionwide, the DEED report found 115 open positions for certified nursing assistants.

“We’ve had to fluctuate when we can do admissions, and we’ve had to postpone them to make sure our staffing levels are at (a place where) we can provide that quality care,” Borris said.

Another area where healthcare employment has not recovered is home health care services. Unlike other outpatient healthcare services, such as doctor’s offices and dental offices, which have seen employment gains, home health care services have lost 347 jobs, or 29%, since 2019.

Both home health care and long-term care providers receive lower federal and state reimbursements for their services compared to hospitals. This makes it difficult to hire staff such as nurses, home health aides and personal care aides, said Kathy Messerli, executive director of the Minnesota Home Care Association.

“While Medicare rates are facing further cuts, and this is quite worrying, rates for Medical Assistance … and Medicare Advantage, which many seniors are signing up for, are incredibly low,” Messerli said. “That’s what makes it difficult to access health care. They can’t keep up with wages.”

Staff reductions in those two service areas also contribute to the problem of late hospital discharges: when a hospital patient no longer needs hospital-level care, but nursing homes, group homes and other nearby care facilities cannot admit to the patient due to capacity issues.

“The job losses we’ve seen in nursing facilities and skilled nursing facilities can be directly tied to the issue of hospital overcrowding,” Mattson said. “That’s a sign that there aren’t enough staff in the skilled nursing sector.”

Across the southeastern Minnesota health care sector, the largest job openings by function are for personal care aides (1,282 jobs), registered nurses (277), licensed practical and vocational nurses (123), and CNAs (115).

For nursing staff, “the problem is there were shortages before the pandemic,” said Jennifer Eccles, executive director of the Center for Nursing Equity and Excellence.

“That shortage is projected to get worse because even though we graduate about 4,000 new nurses each year in our state… this need is just building up,” Eccles said. “But what we also have is a cliff in higher education enrollment.”

The DEED report does not include travel nurses, “since travel nurses are typically employed by temporary agencies, their employment and wages are classified within that industry,” O’Connell said.

To remedy the shortage, both Messerli and Mattson said efforts are underway to recruit high school students into health care careers and emphasized the urgency of bolstering the workforce as the country’s aging population continues to grow.

“The only way to do that is to set some priorities and say, ‘We need to make health care possible,'” Mattson said. “Making this work really attractive to people from a financial standpoint, but also…feeling like you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself.”

At Sacred Heart, Borris said one way the facility tries to retain staff is by offering scholarships to CNAs who want to continue their education.

“We currently have four CNAs who have graduated from an LPN or RN program and remain at our facility,” Borris said. “When we’re able to offer that career growth, it’s a huge recruiting tool that we use to fill vacancies.”

Other jobs facing large vacancies in the region include psychiatric technicians (21 vacancies, 41% vacancy rate) and speech-language pathologists (40 vacancies, 16.5% vacancy rate). .

Mayo Clinic, which operates hospitals, long-term care facilities and clinics in the region, said it did not have an expert available for an interview about the DEED report.

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