Is the health care industry in a hiring crisis?
One Salem area health care provider has placed a billboard on Lancaster Drive in southeast Salem advertising $4,000 sign-on bonuses for medical and dental assistants.
In addition, an internet search produces many articles about health care staffing shortages from, among other sources, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Kaiser Permanente, a large health care provider. There’ll be more on the Kaiser Permanente article later.
Employers had difficulty hiring for some health care occupations before the pandemic. There has been a shortage of nurses for over a decade, and lower-paid health care occupations such as nursing assistant have been on the Oregon Employment Department’s “jobs that are hard to fill” list for many years. Is there a health care hiring crisis in the Salem area?
To answer this question, let’s take a look at the industry, how it’s recovered, and some expert opinion on how to improve hiring in the industry.
The health care industry is the largest employer in the Salem area. It is 15 percent of total employment, some 28,000 workers in Marion and Polk counties.
The Salem area health care workforce consists of:
- Approximately 26 percent in Social Assistance – these include services to the homeless, counseling, job training and child care;
- 34 percent in Ambulatory Care settings, that is, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, clinics and the like;
- 21 percent in Hospitals; and
- 19 percent in Residential and Nursing Care facilities.
How did the industry fare during Covid?
Employment in two areas of health care took huge losses during the first months of the pandemic. These were Ambulatory Care services and Social Assistance. Job losses in these sectors weren’t surprising as some of these services could be postponed for a time. And all involved person-to-person contact which could have exacerbated the spread of Covid.
Hospitals and Nursing and Residential Care facilities also lost employment during the early months, but not as dramatically as the two sectors described above.
It is surprising that there weren’t more job losses. A new study from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that health care industry workers were ill with viruses (mostly Covid) at a rate five times that of all workers during 2020. All workers had an illness rate of 40 per 10,000 workers; the health care industry’s rate was 196 per 10,000, and the rate in nursing homes was nearly 600 per 10,000 workers.
Given these illness rates, and the stress levels among health care workers during Covid, it is perhaps surprising how well the industry has recovered. In May of 2023, the Health Care industry was up nearly one thousand jobs from February of 2020 in the Salem MSA (Marion and Polk counties combined).
More detailed current employment estimates aren’t available. But detail is available in the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, compiled by the Oregon Employment Department from employer reports, which is an actual count of jobs.
If we compare the fourth quarter of 2019 (just before the pandemic) to the fourth quarter of 2022 (the most recent available, we see that: