LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A new $10 million initiative funded by the Kentucky legislature aims to solve Kentucky’s current health care crisis: hiring workers, especially nurses.
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers (R), the Council of Post Secondary Education (CPE) and other Commonwealth leaders outlined the initiative called Kentucky Healthcare Workforce Collaborative (HWC).
As the System Executive Director at Office of Professional Practice at UofL Health, Mandi Walker works with a team to recruit, retain, and educate UofL Health employees. The registered nurse told Spectrum News 1 the biggest challenge right now is hiring and keeping workers.
“And so when I watch retention numbers, it gives me heart palpitations,” she said.
UofL Health in Louisville isn’t the only company facing this problem; it’s a statewide issue. So much so that on Dec. 9, 2021, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) declared a state of emergency related to the nursing shortage.
In the state of emergency document, it’s stated the Kentucky Nurses Association states the Commonwealth is 12 to 20% short of needed nursing staff. Kentucky is projected to need over 16,000 additional nurses by 2024.
It’s a problem state lawmakers want solved, so a $10 million appropriation designated in the 2022 budget bill is bringing various voices together to create an advisory group to tackle the issue.
Called Kentucky’s Healthcare Workforce Collaborative (HWC), the advisory group, from policy experts to public universities and health care leaders in the state, is now tasked with developing strategies to solve Kentucky’s health care workforce crisis. UofL Health has a member on that advisory board.
Chief Operating Office for UofL Health Ken Marshall, who isn’t the member of the advisory board, said hiring health care workers is top of mind right now with 1,000 UofL Health jobs that need to be filled.
Hiring in health care was an issue before COVID-19, but the pandemic sped it up, Marshall said.
“There were times you felt a crunch, but you knew there was a graduating class coming or you knew that, you know, there was something happening within the market that you could adjust and catch up,” he explained.
“But then when the pandemic started people started, you know, you see them leave and go out of the community because they can make more [on a travel contract]. Or you see them say, ‘I can’t do this anymore because I’ve seen too much, and I’m just done with this as a career. I think that bumped it out,” Marshall added.
Besides putting the advisory group together, the $10 million will also serve other purposes, including:
Providing direct grants to Kentucky’s public institutions.
Raising student awareness of and interest in health care occupations.
Improving pathways between high school career and technical programs to college-level health care programs.
Helping health care organizations support career growth and development for their employees.
Marshall said HWC is a start, but that solving this issue is a marathon, not a sprint.
“You know, we’ll have staffing issues this month, and, you know, we will handle them, but I think what I heard today was that, you know, while there currently are fires, if we pay attention to the fires we’re not going to look at what we need to really start to move on and get accomplished over the next 10 years,” Marshall said.
The first HWC meeting will be on Aug. 23, 2022 in Frankfort. To gauge the initiative’s success, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education will provide a report to state leaders by Dec. 1 each year.