Hawaii needs more than 3,800 health care employees to meet the state’s demand – a 76% increase compared with 2019, according to a statewide report released Tuesday.

The Hawaii Healthcare Workforce Initiative 2022 report, which looked at non-physician positions in the health care industry, found that the greatest need in the state is for registered specialty nurses, licensed practical nurses, social workers and entry-level health care professionals.

Many health care professionals say the report confirms what they knew anecdotally about the growing need for health care employees. At the same time, the state has long grappled with staffing shortages heightened by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all because I see it every day,” Daniel Ross, a registered nurse at The Queen’s Medical Center, said. “We are very much short, and it’s not just the RNs; it’s within all health care.”

Healthcare Workforce Initiative 2022 Report, Simulated Birth, Nurse training exercise
The Hawaii Healthcare Workforce Initiative 2022 report shows that non-physician health care professionals are in great need in Hawaii. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

The report, published by the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, surveyed hospitals, health system clinics, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospices and home health organizations between February and June. The report focuses beyond physician needs because that’s already well documented, according to the report, which counted the actual number of non-physician health care job openings across the state.

According to the report, the state has 3,873 health care positions open across 89 professions, which is a jump from 2,220 in 2019. And it is taking an average of six to 12 months to fill those vacancies.

The report also noted that the overall turnover rate in these professions increased to 20% from 16% in 2019.

Oahu has the most significant number of openings on the island alone, representing 15%, or 2,592 jobs for all positions, the report says. But Lanai and Maui have proportionately the greatest demand.

Lanai has 48% of the job openings and Maui has 36% of the openings, the report says.

The findings follow the 2019 report, the first ongoing initiative to look at statewide vacancies in the health care industry. The recent report was slated to be released last year but was delayed due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said his team has been collaborating with the academic community and has new programs underway across the state.

“We’re not just here to present the challenges,” he said at a news conference. “We’re here with solutions that have a track record of success.”

Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel, center, said there are programs underway to address the open job positions. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

New programs coming sometime next year are focused on the local education pipeline, including the High School Health Certifications program and the Glidepath program.

The High School Health Certification program will offer students career exploration, advisement and employment opportunities. The pilot program was funded with more than $500,000 to serve 100 students in public schools in much of the state.

The Glidepath program, geared toward employed CNAs wanting to become LPNs, is an online curriculum and clinical education at a student’s current workplace. The program includes 40 seats for employees from Ohana Pacific Health and Kaiser Permanente.

Carl Hinson, director of workforce development at Hawaii Pacific Health and co-chair of the Hawaii Workforce Initiative, said the state needs more training programs across the islands to accommodate students needed in the industry.

Carl Hinson co-chairs the Hawaii Workforce Initiative. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

“We rely on this (local education) pipeline to bring homegrown talent into our local health care facilities,” Hinson said.

But retaining health care professionals, especially nurses, is an ongoing issue.

A University of Hawaii survey published earlier this year found that nearly a quarter of nurses in the state said they had considered leaving the workforce because of Covid-related safety concerns, job fatigue and caregiver strain.

The state had brought travel nurses from the mainland to help with the overwhelmed hospitals. Raethel said that the state has approximately 600 travel nurses, adding that they will be here until the programs kick in.

Ross, the nurse at Queen’s, said Hawaii nurses need to be paid more than the mainland.

“Why would anyone come to Hawaii or stay in Hawaii to work when you can do better working on the mainland?” Ross said. “You can go and have a higher standard of living because the cost of living in Hawaii is so high and our salaries do not recognize that.”

Hawaii nurses earn an average salary of $104,000 compared to more than $120,000 in California. However, a report by SimpleNursing, said that Hawaii’s cost of living makes nurses’ earnings “feel more like $55.1K per year.”

Raethel acknowledged that Hawaii’s cost of living is why many health care professionals are leaving the state, noting that it’s challenging to compete with the mainland.

He underscored that there is a need for affordable housing to address that issue, adding that he and his team are working with the newly elected governor, Dr. Josh Green, counties and developers.

“We can’t change the price of a gallon of gas, for example,” Raethel said. “That’s (at) an international level. But the things we can change or have an impact on, like housing, we can do that.”

Many Hawaii students are being recruited to work on the mainland, he said, adding that Oregon has offered sign-on bonuses to new graduates.

“So nurses make the decision, even though they’re trained here, and even though there’s a job here waiting for them, they still relocate to the mainland,” Raethel said, noting that his team is working on trying to address that.

An Important Note

If you consider nonprofit, independent news to be an essential service that helps keep our community informed, please include Civil Beat among your year-end contributions.

And for those who can, consider supporting us with a monthly gift, which helps keep our content free for those who need it most.

This year, we are making it our goal to raise $225,000 in reader support by December 31, to support our news coverage statewide and throughout the Pacific. Are you ready to help us continue this work?

About the Author