This article originally appeared in Louisville Business First on July 29, 2022. 

“The new normal.” “Pre-covid.” “Post-pandemic.” Common phrases of 2022, often used to justify a new shortage of goods or services, a long wait, or a lackluster experience.

These phrases were noticeably — and refreshingly — absent during a recent forum convened by Health Enterprises Network, an initiative of Greater Louisville Inc., where more than 150 local health care and business leaders gathered to discuss how the workforce shortage is impacting health care delivery and patient experience.

We cannot accept this as the “new normal” in health care, nor should we compromise patient experiences and outcomes.

One of the key takeaways from the conversation was that nurses are essential to all parts of the health care ecosystem. The shortage of nurses in Kentucky prompted Gov. Andy Beshear last year to issue a state of emergency.

According to the filing, Kentucky needs 12% to 20% more nursing staff to operate at full capacity. However, the shortage will only get worse as the state projects losing another 16,000 nurses over the next two years. Other health-related fields are experiencing similar staffing shortages.

This is a crisis for health care not just in Kentucky, but throughout the country.

Nationally, nearly 20% of health care workers have quit their jobs since the pandemic began. Several trends have resulted: Some hospital nurses have requested transfers to less stressful outpatient settings, where the work is less physically demanding, and the patient cases are less complex.

Many nurses are using their experience with various therapies to begin new careers in the pharmaceutical or health-insurance sectors. Others have taken jobs in nonclinical areas such as consulting, startups and other businesses.

There is no magic wand to fix what feels like a mass exodus, so health leaders must be proactive and deliberate about retention. Here are a few of the options we discussed at the Health Enterprises Network’s recent forum:


Redesign the work using technology tools

Nurses often spend much of their time on paperwork and other duties not directly related to patient care. Off-loading administrative duties to other employees can relieve some pressure. Technology and automation can help reduce or eliminate repetitive tasks, enabling nurses to work at the top of their license — spending more time providing care.

Consider reducing on-call time, allowing some training to occur from home, or providing more paid time off. Artificial intelligence tools and data-driven solutions may help hospitals and health systems proactively identify employees who might be burning out and at risk of leaving.

Create a more humanized clinician experience

Some hospitals and health systems may need to restructure existing policies and procedures to reinforce that their leaders are invested in employees’ professional and personal goals. This could provide front-line personnel with more autonomy, help innovate new workflows, and provide vital feedback to leadership.

Motivate and mentor

Mentorships between experienced staff and new hires help instill loyalty and improve worker retention. Health care staff need opportunities to advance professionally within their organizations.

Policy solutions

Employers clearly have a role to play in addressing this shortage, but legislative action is also critical to increase the supply of trained health care workers. The Kentucky General Assembly acted this year to bring more health care professionals into the field faster by lifting limits on enrollment for nursing schools and expanding state reciprocity for nurses.

Beyond that, it’s critical to promote the benefits of working in health care and make employment opportunities in the industry more accessible to those who are passionate about helping others.


Community involvement

In addition to pursuing legislative solutions, we are also doing our part as leaders in the community to address this ongoing shortage. In January, the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council convened the chief human resources officers of major health care organizations to establish the Center for Healthcare Workforce Innovation (CHeWI).

The Center is a strategic partnership between health care employers, higher education, and community partners including Greater Louisville Inc. to address many of the challenges we’re facing, and to proactively recruit, train and retain the health care workforce of tomorrow at the local, regional and national levels.

Some of the most amazing people you’ll ever meet work in health care, and we owe these health care heroes solutions to the workforce shortage. While we are developing technology, policy and community solutions, we encourage employers to embrace open, creative dialogue with their employees to better understand how they can improve the work experience and keep these great people on their team.

— Dr. Jay Bhatt is a physician executive, internist and executive director for the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions and the Deloitte Health Equity Institute. Logan Gatti is the director of the Health Enterprises Network, an initiative of Greater Louisville Inc. Josh Williams is the director of strategic initiatives for the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council.