It is hard to overstate what impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the labor market. In only a matter of days, businesses needed to develop a way to ensure their employees’ health and safety while keeping their operations going. Many businesses were able to successfully transition to a “safer from home” model, but for industries such as the healthcare market, it was an entirely different experience. Even prior to the pandemic, the healthcare market in the United States – and around the world – was often pushed to its limits. But in the face of a global pandemic, it was devastated. Dealing with worldwide burnout, healthcare workers have left their jobs in record numbers since the start of the pandemic. According to recent studies, this is only expected to worsen over the next few years.
Demand for healthcare professionals to increase due to aging population
As the tail end of the “Baby boomer” generation edges toward retirement age, the need for additional healthcare resources increases. This surplus of individuals heading toward – or currently in – the age range where healthcare services are typically in greater need is expected to create a demand of at least a 15 percent increase in healthcare occupations over the next ten years. Coupled with a natural progressive increase in market demand, the aging population is expected to cause a significant shortage in healthcare professionals.
Mercer report projects labor shortage in the healthcare market
A recently released report from Mercer details the expected downward trend of the healthcare labor over the next five years. Research from the labor market analysis provides a grim outlook as the market, ravaged by a global pandemic, is expected to shrink in key areas by 2026. With demand expected to continue to increase, Mercer has highlighted four trends that they expect to impact the market most over the new few years:
- A shortage of labor at the low end of wage spectrum will limit access to home care: The need for workers in positions such as medical assistants, home health aides, and nursing assistants will increase, but due to issues such as wage disparity and lack of flexible work schedules, more workers will leave than will step in.
- Primary care will increasingly be provided by non-physicians: A significant percentage of primary care physicians are nearing retirement age or older. It is expected that in lieu of replacement by other primary care physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners will step in to fill the demand.
- There will be surpluses of nursing talent in some areas of the south and southwest and shortages elsewhere: The demand for nursing talent will extend beyond the boundaries of where it is needed. The north – and the northeast in particular – is expected to have a large gap in the need for nurses.
- A six-figure hiring rush for mental health providers will emerge by 2026: The need for mental health professionals has steadily increased over the years. It is expected that the demand will continue to increase and eventually far surpass the availability of professionals.
Through their research, Mercer has determined that the areas that will be hit the hardest as a result of the shortage are Illinois, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Each state is expected to have a shortage in home care workers, nursing talent, and mental health providers by the end of 2026.
The impact on the absence industry
It remains to be seen exactly what impact a labor shortage in the healthcare market will have on the absence industry. A shortage in healthcare professionals will only increase burnout among staff and leave many facilities with insufficient levels of staffing to adequately care for patients. This may mean individuals will be required to wait longer for preventative visits or delay certain procedures. It could also result in an increase in mortality as the level of care diminishes.
The absence industry will need to prepare itself to adapt to any changes as the healthcare market struggles against a labor shortage. Decisions on claims may need to be made without certain diagnostic tests. Consistent medical treatment and follow up may become more sporadic as patients struggle get appointments. Patients may be required to stay in facilities longer due to lack of active and rehabilitative care. We have had to reevaluate strategies as we dealt with the ebbs and flows of the pandemic. As we move forward, we will be sure to apply the lessons learned from the pandemic to provide services and solutions that assist our customers in addressing the challenges that we anticipate will arise as a result of the labor shortage.