An inaugural workforce study from the Healthcare Association of Hawaii has found more than 2,000 health sector jobs open.

Among those in greatest demand are medical assistants, nurse aides, registered specialty nurses, patient service representatives and phlebotomists.

It’s the first time the industry has taken a serious look at measuring non-physician job demand in Hawaii, says Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of Healthcare Association of Hawaii. The nonprofit trade association plans to conduct the demand report every two years.

“The health care market is evolving,” he said. “We want to recalibrate because we anticipate that the demand is going to increase in some professions and decrease in others.”

CNA Juvy Requilman talks to residents at Hokulaki Senior Living care home in Kaneohe. 14 aug 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Certified nurse assistants like Juvy Requilman are in high demand at hospitals and nursing facilities, according to a new study. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

During the six months leading up to March 2019, there were 2,200 open spots among 76 non-physician health care jobs, representing a 10% vacancy rate for health care positions statewide. Data was collected by surveying hospitals, clinics, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, hospices, home health organizations and insurance companies directly.

Nearly half of vacancies were at hospitals, where employers cited a high need for registered specialty nurses, or those who can work in surgery, emergency, and critical care settings.

Skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities and hospices also reported shortages of certified nurse assistants, registered nurses, and licensed practical nurses.

At the time of the count, there were more than 460 open positions for registered nurses of various specialties and more than 400 open positions for certified nursing assistants and clinical assistants.

“I don’t think this is a surprise, but by having numbers, it gives us a lot more opportunity for action than if we were going off anecdotes,” said Laura Reichhardt, the director of the Hawaii State Center for Nursing.

Reichhardt said the state produces hundreds of nursing graduates every year, but the sector struggles to hire and fund new faculty to expand specialty training programs.

Mimi Harris, vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer at The Queen’s Health Systems, said there are few slots for new graduates.

For other specialty nursing positions, preference is given to those with the most experience in particular clinical settings, like surgical oncology. The hospital’s nursing vacancy rate has run as low as 4% and high as 14%, she said.

“We have enough nurses to do the work, but what it means is we are constantly bringing on board new people so there’s a higher rate of orienting and training and bringing people on board, and that can be somewhat of a burden on existing staff,” she said.

Jean Schneider, associate director of sector partnerships at the University of Hawaii, said the new data is a huge asset for curriculum development as well as for the members of the Healthcare Education & Training Alliance.

“They’ve broken it down by nurse specialty — that is very nuanced data,” she said. “Sometimes in labor market data, it only says ‘RNs,’ and the education sector is like, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to produce more RNs.’ But this (report) gives job seekers and education to understand where the needs are for specific trainings.”

The report also highlights other health care job opportunities beyond nursing. For some positions in high demand, such as physical therapy and occupational therapy, there aren’t training programs in Hawaii.

The report is already beginning to spark communication between the academic community and the health care industry.

HAH plans to engage with students of all ages about the variety of jobs available in health care — whether it’s working in a laboratory as a phlebotomist, or as a radiology technician.

“As we work with educational institutions, part of our goal is to create a much closer match between what the needs of the health care industry are, and what the educational institutions are churning out,” Raethel said. “They want their graduates to get jobs, and we have openings for people. Historically there would have been anecdotal conversations. There’s never been this formal collaboration.”

Over the past two years, health workforce training at the high school level has expanded with new programs in medical assisting, nurse aid training, and licensed practical nursing at Oahu high schools and community colleges.

“With the right training, you can start a health career right and make competitive wages right out of high school,” added Carl Hinson, director of Workforce Development at Hawaii Pacific Health and co-chair of the HAH Healthcare Workforce Initiative.

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