NewsNC report identifies health worker shortages and suggests solutions

NC report identifies health worker shortages and suggests solutions

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A state report reveals that, despite 14% of North Carolina’s youth reporting severe depressive episodes, fewer than half have received mental health services, highlighting a critical gap in addressing the mental health needs of the community. The report also warns of impending workforce shortages, particularly in healthcare, as 38% of nurses plan to retire within the next five years, contributing to an anticipated shortage of 12,500 Registered Nurses (RNs) and 5,000 Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) by 2033.

The findings, released jointly by the state Health and Human Services and Commerce departments in a report titled “Investing in North Carolina’s Caregiving Workforce: Recommendations to strengthen North Carolina’s nursing, direct care, and behavioral health workforce,” emphasize the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to address shortages in nursing, behavioral health, and direct care.

Direct care workers, facing low wages and limited advancement opportunities, are reluctant to stay in their roles for an extended period. The median salary for home health and personal care aides was $12.06 per hour in 2022, and for nursing assistants, it was $15.31 per hour. Thousands of workers are required to fill these roles and meet the growing demand.

The report acknowledges existing programs, such as loan forgiveness initiatives for nurses and doctors, designed to mitigate workforce shortages. However, it proposes additional measures to attract and retain professionals in these fields, including:

1. Creation of a network of nurses offering mentorship and academic coaching to community college nursing students.

2. Adjustment of public sector nursing salaries to match inflation rates.

3. Addressing nursing students’ needs for transportation, childcare, food, and housing.

4. Expansion of nurse and faculty loan programs and stipends.

To tackle the shortage of behavioral health workers, the report calls for improved and consolidated data. Recommendations include:

1. Support for career advancement for unlicensed workers.

2. Improved pay and benefits for public behavioral health workers, both licensed and unlicensed.

3. Increased training and credentialing for peer support workers.

Recognizing the diverse roles and duties encompassed by “direct care” jobs, the report advocates for the creation of an inventory and standardization of job descriptions and credentials. Once better data is available, the report suggests advocating for increased wages and developing credentialing programs for direct care workers. Additionally, the implementation of apprenticeship programs is recommended to facilitate a smooth transition from school to direct employment.

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