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Maryland healthcare employers continue to face the rise of remote work, workforce burnout, and the need to hire and retain a diverse workforce that is representative of the communities they serve.

Three experts shared their comments on how the state should work to strengthen the health workforce in our country. 2022 Maryland Health Policy Conference in Baltimore last month.

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Manny Ocasio, director of human resources at Luminis Health, noted the changes in the healthcare workforce due to the pandemic.

“During the pandemic, 25% of women immediately quit their jobs,” he said. “Not in many cases for voluntary reasons, but because they are compelled by circumstances and the fact that many of them are still primary caregivers. [in their families]”.

He said the pandemic has changed the demand for the nursing market. Hospitals and other employers are reluctant to sign contracts with field nurses due to increase in labor coststo the detriment of patient care. In addition, he said that some nurses are often forced to switch to jobs that no longer involve direct patient care.

Another reason employers struggle to fill vacancies is the lack of recognition of external factors that affect an employee’s ability to work or apply for a job.

“For those of you who are hiring managers, or those of you who are more or less involved in talent scouting, I want you to ask yourself: “What do I know about the people who applied for this position?”, said Richard LaFerrier, Lead Director of HR Initiatives and Strategic Diversity Management at CVS Health.

“Are they a caretaker? Are they on government assistance? Do they have a disability? If you search your Applicant Tracking System for this information, you won’t find it. You are probably not allowed to ask about some of these things either. As employers, hiring leaders, recruiters, how do we understand the people who come to us looking for work?”

The group gave other examples of how not including the social determinants of health could hinder people’s access to the health workforce. For example, individuals with a criminal record may face obstacles when trying to apply for a license to provide medical services.

Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who entered the US before the age of 16 – can meet the educational requirements and train to become a nurse in Maryland, but are often denied a license due to lack of a Social Security number. Legislators tried to bill during the 2022 Legislative Session, which would have barred health councils from doing so, but the bill ultimately failed.

Healthcare employers in Maryland also need to diversify the sources from which they seek employment, Ocasio said.

“Historically, black colleges and universities have tended to have more trouble accommodating their students. [in the health care workforce],” he said. “We at Luminis Health look to every HBCU that has a nursing program between Delaware and North Carolina as our goal. We make it our duty to diversify the workforce. If you start at home with HBCUs and facilities serving Hispanics , we can at least improve some of the effects. [of workforce disparities.]”

Allison Renig Siborowski, President and CEO of LeadingAge Maryland, stressed the importance of working with the state legislature and health councils to address labor shortages.

She highlighted SB 440who completed this session. This bill establishes the Maryland Health Workforce Crisis Commission and requires the Commission to submit a final report to the General Assembly by December 31, 2023.

“The purpose of this law is to get all these stakeholders to come together in one room to talk and produce an actionable report that they will submit to the legislature,” she said.

The panel also talked about how employers are working to change their schedules, essentially moving away from the 9 to 5 format. For example, Ocasio spun off Luminis Health. Weekend planwhich allows nurses to work only weekend shifts and remain the primary caregiver for their family during the week, while still earning the same amount as a 36-hour work week.

He also said that many employers – not just in the healthcare industry – are optimizing the hybrid remote work model and allow employees to work 3 days in the office and 2 days at home.

LaFerrier acknowledged that the hybrid model could be improved in many ways, and that it starts with deliberate planning that prioritizes the time employees can communicate and collaborate with each other.

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