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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Can supply chain tactics solve nursing shortage?

North Carolina’s hospitals clamor for more nurses now, so projections of a 17,500 gap between the supply of nurses and the demand over the next 10 years makes the situation appear dire.

But two groups, one private and the other public, announced last week they would take a statewide, supply chain approach to diverting the critical nursing shortage crisis now in North Carolina, with an eye toward creating long-term solutions in the care of the state’s aging and growing population.

Will a new process of looking at nursing shortage help divert a crisis?

The NC Chamber Foundation and the NC Center on the Workforce for Health say they’ll use hard data to address the nursing shortage and utilize what they call a Talent Pipeline Management system to solve it. In a basic way, it can be viewed as identifying a need or a product and then working on the procurement process.

But in this case, instead of a widget or piece of equipment, the product represents skilled nurses to work in hospitals and clinics in North Carolina’s biggest cities and smallest towns. People aren’t products, but the solution in filling a need can be similar, says Meredith Archie, president of the NC Chamber Foundation. 

First, comes identifying the causes of the problem, she says.

“We know there’s a problem, but we have to get to the data to know where the gaps are in the supply and the demand before we can talk about a solution,” says Archie.

For example, there are about 104,000 full-time registered nurses working in the state now, with a demand of more than 105,500. In 10 years, the project demand for RNs will be more than 125,500, but a supply of just 113,277 unless the supply chain can be changed up, according to a UNC Chapel Hill study. The study projects an approximate 5,000 gap in supply and demand for licensed practical nurses over the same time period.

The statewide business group and the workforce agency have been working for months organizing partnerships between private employers, education institutions and other groups involved in the recruitment and retention of nurses. In the next 18 months, the partnership will create three pilot programs in different regions of the state, and take the partnership statewide within three years, says Archie.

The goal will be to have employer-led talent pipelines across the state’s nine Area Health Education Centers, which is one of the organizations that coordinates the N.C. Center on the Workforce for Health.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and made worse the shortages of healthcare workers our state has faced and will continue to face unless we do something different,” says Hugh Tilson, director of the N.C. AHEC.

While the nursing shortage hits all parts of the state, rural areas could face even more significant shortfalls, says Tilson.

Success in the Talent Pipeline Management involves a process:

  • Organize regional public/private partnerships to recruit and retain talent;
  • Define the specific levels of demand for health care workers and create all necessary programs to fill that demand;
  • Identify gaps in training availability and take steps to fill those gaps;
  • Create systems of support to help more individuals complete the needed trainings to join the healthcare workforce; and
  • Work with employers to identify practices for improving retention.

Workforce issues had topped the list of priorities for businesses across the state for several years, says Archie. 

“Today, workforce development is economic development,” says Archie.

 Groups including the N.C. Community College System, the UNC System, the Department of Health and Human Services, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina and others have signed on to the collaboration.

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