The Significance and Severity of the Healthcare Labor Shortage
By Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy and government affairs, Omnicell.
Originally, the Great Resignation was an idea, proposed by Anthony Klotz, a professor at Texas A&M University, that predicted a large number of people would leave their jobs after the COVID-19 pandemic ends and life returns to “normal.”
The pandemic has by no means ended, as Omicron, the latest COVID-19 variant, has dramatically reminded us. On Jan. 4, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Omicron was the dominant COVID-19 strain in the nation, accounting for 95% of cases, and Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, has described Omicron as “raging through the world.”
Despite the continuation of the pandemic, a massive number of Americans did not wait to quit their jobs in 2021. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in April 2021 a record 3.8 million people resigned, followed by a string of more record resignations in subsequent months: 3.9 million in June, 4.2 million in July, 4.3 million in August, and 4.4 million in September. In total, more than 24 million Americans quit their jobs from April to September 2021. One writer described the United States as “a nation of quitters.” And during this period, the number of job openings was generally more than double the number of resignations. For example, there were 10.4 million openings at the end of September 2021.
Of course, the big question was why did this mass, sustained exodus from the workforce occur? Not surprisingly, the top reason was the cumulative stress and burnout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This led workers to seek relief and assert their rights, or at least their desires, for better compensation, more flexibility, less stress, and increased job satisfaction.
Resignations have been the most pronounced in the technology and healthcare industries, where workers experienced extreme increases in demand due to the pandemic, resulting in heavier workloads and burnout. From February 2020 to September 2021, healthcare lost an astounding 524,000 workers. The confluence of increased demand for care—driven by increased case volume as well as higher acuity—and an aging workforce that has not been sufficiently replaced by younger generations led to the record numbers of worker departures.