Guest Column: The Workforce Shortage is Compounding Healthcare Issues in Wisconsin

Thursday, May 25, 2023 9:04 AM | WiSCA (Administrator)

Author: By WI Senator Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton)

As a healthcare provider myself, I’ve seen firsthand the dramatic changes the industry has gone through in the last two decades. Digitization, growth in specialty care, and diversification of service models have all helped advance how providers deliver care to patients.

Then a pandemic hit. This dramatically increased burnout, wore on the mental health of staff, and others simply left because of overburdensome restrictions. As a result, the entire healthcare system is still reeling from historic drops in staffing levels, with the pipeline of students entering the profession not keeping up with demand.

Hospitals are now relying on traveling nurses, who can come at a cost almost three times as much as nursing staff. Nursing homes, who were struggling to recruit before the pandemic, are now closing entire wings of their facilities. Meanwhile, the shortage of providers in rural areas remains an issue and the pace of attracting professionals to Wisconsin has been slow.

What can be done? As chair of the Senate Committee on Health this session, I’ve made it my mission to address these workforce issues head-on. There is no “silver bullet” solution–both investment and regulatory reform is necessary to improve Wisconsin’s nation-leading healthcare system.

I’m focused on three specific areas to achieve this:

• Boosting the attractiveness of healthcare professions to students. By highlighting healthcare professions and the rewarding nature of care, we can and should do a better job encouraging internships and other work-based learning programs for students to be exposed to healthcare. We also have opportunities to offer some loan forgiveness for our highest-need professions, reducing the financial burden on those who wish to pursue a career in the field.

• Streamlining the school-to-work pipeline. I’ve proposed letting students who have completed their education and training to enter the workforce without waiting on a bureaucratic process that–in some cases–can last months. This would keep students here after college, allow them to enter the workforce immediately, and so long as their employer consents, start treating patients.

• Allowing healthcare professionals to practice at the full extent of their scope. This includes our nurses, who are now operating in an environment that hinders their ability to practice independently. By unleashing this group of healthcare professionals, we can help solve two issues: attract more nurses to Wisconsin (which is desperately needed) and expand the pool of providers able to set up shop in areas that need it most.

Though we can and should do more than this, we need to start somewhere. This is our opportunity to break down barriers, build a robust patient-focused system, and deliver more accessible care to Wisconsinites.

Let’s keep moving forward!

Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton) served one term in the state assembly and currently represents the 19th Senate District in the Wisconsin State Senate. She serves as chair for the Senate Committee on Health and Vice Chair for the Senate Committee on Mental Health, Substance Abuse Prevention, Children, and Families.

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