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A Publication of WTVP

In the last article, I discussed the Critical Skills Shortage Initiative announced by the governor in a recent visit to Peoria. This initiative, lead by four central Illinois workforce boards, in partnership with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, seeks to identify current and future economic trends and address occupational shortages that may adversely impact growth of the regional economy. The ultimate goal is to align regional workforce development resources to provide a reliable supply of qualified workers to meet industry needs for occupations where there are projected skill shortages. Major activities of the initiative include researching regional labor market projections, identifying skills and/or occupations in short supply for the immediate future, validating the data with interviews and focus groups of industry leaders and key stakeholders, identifying root causes for the shortages, and identifying action plans to address the root causes and guide the investment of state and local workforce investment resources.

In the last article, I also discussed initial research identifying the health services industry as an early candidate for intervention based upon the three criteria of the initiative: The industry should maintain or expand its existing employment base, add new jobs for the immediate future, and provide opportunities for economic development. Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) projections indicate the regional health services industry will expand from 28,298 workers in 2000 to 32,564 workers in 2010. This represents a projected growth of 6,966 jobs during the period, for an increase of 9.7 percent. The health care industry ranks sixth in the 10-county central Illinois region for size and first for growth of jobs. Within the industry, there are a number of occupations where shortages are emerging.

A 2002 Illinois Hospital Association survey puts the aggregate vacancy rate for all direct care nursing positions at 9.25 percent. For staff RNs, the rate was 9.35 percent, and for LPNs it was 11.8 percent. In central Illinois, this same survey identified the vacancy rate for clinical nurse specialists at an alarming 35 percent, 13 percent for LPNs, and 12 percent for staff RNs.

Regional focus group participants representing hospitals said recruiting and retaining RNs of all types was very difficult and becoming more so with the passage of time. Focus group participants agreed the existing nursing shortage threatened to adversely impact the quality of patient care in both hospitals and long-term care facilities. Participants also agreed a continuation or exacerbation of the shortages may have serious consequences for the regional health care system.

Root causes for the nursing shortages have yet to be determined. The annual number of RN graduates from regional educational institutions seems to meet or exceed the projected openings from the IDES. However, for LPNs, the reverse is true. "Leakage" of nurses from the region, and nurses leaving the profession due to burn-out may also account for the noted shortages. At this point, local employers are using signing bonuses and other recruiting rewards to entice prospective workers. At the same time, wages and benefits appear to be rising faster than the average for all occupations.

The evidence of national, state, and regional studies, along with the confirmation of health care providers, indicates our region is facing real nursing shortages. The evidence also indicates these shortages will continue and may worsen in the future. Supply shortages that impact a major employment sector of our region must be addressed to maintain acceptable levels of patient care, support our regional health care system, and grow our regional economy. IBI

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