Investing in health care workers is investing in the people of Hawaii

In 2018, when faced with rising health care job vacancies, a volunteer committee of health care, community and education leaders banded together to form the Hawaii Healthcare Workforce Initiative, coordinated by the Hawaii Healthcare Association.

The primary goal of the Workforce Initiative is to match the supply produced by educational institutions with the demands, or needs, of health care employers.

Since the time HWI began its work, several innovations and workforce programs have emerged and been implemented. The good news, as highlighted in the recent release of the 2022 Hawaii Healthcare Workforce Initiative report, is that the initial program has been an unqualified success.

The not-so-good news is that demand has grown faster than supply, resulting in 3,873 patients facing health care job openings (excluding physicians) across the state. Hawaii’s health care job vacancy rate has increased 76% since the HWI’s inaugural report in 2019.

The pandemic highlighted the fact that Hawaii struggles to take care of all its health care needs. The report highlights how the pandemic worsened those conflicts, despite efforts by all partners in the workforce initiative.

During each of Delta and Omicron we were fortunate with material support from the State of Hawaii and FEMA to bring over 800 mainland clinical staff to help reinforce our resident health care professionals. HWI reports that 17% of non-physician, patient-facing positions are currently vacant, up from 10% just three years ago.

Hawaii’s health care job vacancy rate has increased 76% since the Healthcare Workforce Initiative’s inaugural report was released in 2019. Credit: The Queen’s Health Systems/2020

The innovative way forward is to meet workers where they are. We are working to share the many benefits of a health care career with high school, undergraduate and graduate students in Hawaii. We are also creating transition-to-employment programs for them to seamlessly enter the workforce and advance their careers while continuing to earn a living.

We believe the Earn While You Learn approach provides optimal conditions for both students and employers. Employers retain their employees and fill higher-level positions and employees earn more over time and better provide for their families without leaving the workforce.

These “glidepaths” include opportunities for entry-level workers to advance their careers or graduates to acquire additional skills needed for specialized positions, such as labor and delivery nurses and others. HWI’s collaboration has demonstrated success in:

  • The Healthcare Association of Hawaii teamed up with the University of Hawaii Community College system to create entry-level health certification programs for occupations such as nurse aide, phlebotomist and patient service representative. This transition-to-employment program has already graduated more than 350 students in 40 classes.
  • A new earn-and-learn program starting this month creates a glidepath for certified nurse aides to become eligible to work as licensed practical nurses. This combination of online courses and hands-on clinical education in the work place was created in collaboration with employers: Ohana Pacific Health and Hale Makua Health Services; Teachers: University of Hawaii Maui College and UH Community College; and important partners such as the Hawaii State Center for Nursing and Unite Here! Local 5 and their training organization, BSH and Harriet Training Trust.

Additional programs, as described in the HWI report, address workforce needs in a way that people employed in health care do not have to leave work to pursue full-time education to advance their careers. Meeting employees where they are has been key to the early success of these programs.

As HWI continues to collaborate with the many other groups in Hawaii that seek similar results, we are more determined than ever to address this growing need – not only for our local health care organizations, but for each Hawaii for the resident.

We all need to access health care at some point. Taking care of the health care workers who care for us will remain our top priority.

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