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Tomah Health Responds to Continued Workforce Challenges

The head of hiring at Tomah Health says while there are some challenges to meet staffing needs, the hospital is in a better position compared to others regarding workforce issues throughout the state. “We’re doing a great job finding people, so we are not having true recruitment issues, barring some difficult to fill positions,” said Tomah Health human resources director Brenda Reinert. “It’s COVID and the regulations that go with the pandemic that have been challenging for us,” she said.

According to the recently released 2022 Wisconsin Hospital Association’s Health Care Workforce Report, an aging workforce combined with a spike in staff exits associated with a nationwide employment disruption dubbed the “Great Resignation” created unprecedented levels of vacancy rates in health care professions in 2021.

“A number of groups predicted the Great Resignation, and while it is impacting us here, it is not on the same level as was predicted,” said Reinert. “Our turnover has seen a moderate increase and some of the resignations include retirements. We’re lucky at Tomah Health that we have a relatively young workforce and don’t have as many staff retiring each year.”

Reinert said that it is hard to point to one specific reason for staff turnover, adding that the hospital continues to struggle with difficult to fill positions. “Our lab openings are at the top of the list, including phlebotomists. Occupational Therapists, Associate Providers and CNA’s (certified nursing assistants) are also hard to fill,” Reinert said.

She said the hospital has been able to work through a statewide need for registered nurses. “The shortage has arrived on registered nurses but for us, we have been able to grow our own. They start out as a CNA, move into an LPN (licensed practical nurse) and then into a graduate nurse role and then we find a spot for them in a registered nurse role. That has really saved us in a lot of departments,” Reinert said. According to the WHA report, registered nurse vacancy rates are the highest since 2005.

While some health care facilities have had to turn to temporary agencies to fill workforce gaps, Reinert said Tomah Health has been able to weather the storm thanks to dedicated staff. “We’ve been able to avoid the use of temporary agencies since we have staff that is willing to pick up extra shifts,” she explained.

She also credited staff during what has been a high-stress environment. “We’re doing a good job recognizing the extra stress staff are experiencing and they are generally coping with it very well,” she said. “Our continued success is due to them.”

WHA Senior vice president of Workforce and Clinical Practice Ann Zenk said the health care workforce has shouldered an enormous professional, mental and emotional burden over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. “They are understandably drained. They have cared for us through extremely challenging circumstances and at a time when their own ranks were depleted by illness and burnout,” Zenk said. “Wisconsin’s health care workers now more than ever deserve our understanding and commitment as we together seek to fill gaps between workforce supply and demand in order to maintain our state’s high-quality care.”

According to the WHA report, officials have recommended collaboration among health care stakeholders in support of organizational, public and payer policies to achieve a number of issues, including:
•Build public-private partnerships to “Grow Our Own” Wisconsin health care workforce;
•Promote rapid innovations to retain and recruit workers to Wisconsin’s health care workforce;
•Break down barriers to top-of-skill practice;
•Further bolster acceptance and efficient utilization of telemedicine and technology;
•Reduce regulatory burden and increase regulatory flexibility; and,
•Support care in the best setting—inpatient, outpatient or post-acute.

While hospital operations are moving back to somewhat normal as COVID numbers decline, Reinert feels that a new normal is taking shape, which includes some employees continuing to work remotely from home. “We have shown that even elements of health care can be performed in a remote fashion. Once you have shown that it works, you can’t back-peddle, because to me that’s progress,” Reinert added.

Tomah Health employs just over 400. To View our latest staff openings, CLICK HERE

To view the 2022 WHA Health Care Workforce report, CLICK HERE

Tomah Health