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The Healthcare Workforce: Driving Transformation Today and Beyond

Land, Trudy FACHE

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Frontiers of Health Services Management: Summer 2019 - Volume 35 - Issue 4 - p 1-2
doi: 10.1097/HAP.0000000000000062
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Workforce innovation is a key component in healthcare’s transformation. New care delivery models are taking shape in a landscape marked by healthcare reform, technological developments, aging populations, generational differences, and consumerism. These factors, among others, are prompting changes in the workforce and in healthcare organizations. Hospitals must hire and retain a workforce with the right size and skills, in the right place, and at the right time, or else they cannot achieve their quality, safety, and cost-effectiveness goals.

Organizational leadership and culture are the primary forces behind a workplace that can recruit and retain diverse groups of clinical and support professionals. What best practices can organizations employ as they reshape and optimize resources to attain value-based goals? This issue of Frontiers of Health Services Management delves into many facets of that question.

Complexities create opportunities for innovation. With technological advances and shifts in the continuum of care, clinical and support workers are being redeployed to fill new roles and redefined positions. Investments in training, recruitment, and retention initiatives are being made. Cultural transformation, flexibility, and cross-generational partnerships are optimizing labor resources. Meanwhile, supply and demand imbalances in tight labor markets are prompting talent wars, which lead to increased labor costs. In this environment, high-performing organizations are finding ways to create a culture that supports a diverse workforce prepared for different care models. They are discovering safe, collaborative, and productive approaches to deliver an excellent patient experience.

Traditional human resource strategies must evolve as external forces impinge on healthcare. As multiple generations converge in the workplace, they have to collaborate. Otherwise, disrespect, poor communication, and even burnout will compromise the patient experience and negatively affect operational and financial results. So how can we develop a culture where all people walk the talk that emphasizes respect and communication amid differing views? How do we attain a culture that truly demonstrates the best workplace qualities? As the healthcare leaders featured in this issue of Frontiers illustrate, opportunities abound for organizations’ greatest assets—human resources—to play a leading role in the transformation of healthcare.

Feature article author Patricia Golden Webb, FACHE, provides valuable recommendations about workforce management of talent, leadership, technology, and culture and provides examples of effective strategies at Catholic Health Initiatives. Even as Webb enumerates the challenges that healthcare is facing, she adds a positive note: “Effective management of a diverse workforce can make a significant impact on all of these challenges.”

In his feature article, James E. Parsons, FACHE, promotes workforce planning as the key to mitigating present and potential future challenges in healthcare delivery. His strategies center on developing a skilled workforce, meeting the need for innovation and flexibility, and accommodating diversity. From his vantage point at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, he sees those tasks as the greatest challenges—and potentially the greatest opportunities. “After all, a better workforce will mean better outcomes for our patients,” Parsons concludes.

Commentator Dennis J. Kain, FACHE, of the executive recruiting firm Tyler & Company, emphasizes the critical significance of workforce issues. In facing them, the first step he suggests is to establish the right culture, one in which leadership reinforces the foundational role of human resources (HR) and then gives employees the help they need to succeed. Kain states, “I urgently advise our leaders to recognize the current workforce crisis, develop greater trust in their HR departments and employees, and create a supportive culture—particularly for the new executives who will shape the future of healthcare.”

In her commentary, Linda J. Knodel, FACHE, of Kaiser Permanente, explores the interrelationships of various factors influencing the healthcare workforce. Dynamics include regulatory reform to meet evolving healthcare needs, technology’s impact on the clinical work environment, the significant shortage of workers, and changes in the composition of the workforce. She identifies community partnerships as important strategic initiatives to help meet workforce needs. “In designing a workforce for the future, healthcare leaders need to look beyond healthcare and develop stronger and greater partnerships with disciplines that we have not generally worked with in the past,” she explains.

Nicholas R. Tejeda, FACHE, comments on managing talent effectively, identifying the most important HR needs, and recruiting and retaining the best employees. He tells how The Hospitals of Providence (THOP) cultivates leaders and engages and retains talented employees through 60-day feedback sessions and monthly “1:10” meetings the CEO holds with ten randomly selected employees. According to Tejeda, the requisite element is a workplace culture that “will inevitably determine the success of the entire organization.” As he points out, the strategies and tactics to address complex workforce issues at THOP have yielded innovative solutions that can work for other organizations as well.

© 2019 Foundation of the American College of Healthcare Executives