The healthcare sector added 63,500 jobs in February alone – a kind of growth in healthcare employment hasn’t seen since pre-pandemic days. In addition to the healthcare industry alone, the senior care sector reported its third employment gain in a row with a total year-to-date increase of 9,000 jobs.
The healthcare space struggled heavily to maintain strong employment rates across subsectors and employee burnout was at an all-time high. However, things have been looking up in the labor space since the spike in Delta variant cases, according to a recent February Jobs Report.
The healthcare sector added 63,500 jobs in February alone – a kind of growth in healthcare employment hasn’t seen since pre-pandemic days, the report showed. In addition to the healthcare industry alone, the senior care sector reported its third employment gain in a row with a total year-to-date increase of 9,000 jobs.
Matt Wolf, director and healthcare senior analyst at RSM, said healthcare employment is still digging itself out of the hole created by the pandemic; where 1.6 million people left healthcare employment from March to April in 2020. Healthcare employment in February 2020 was at 16.49 million, and currently, it is at 16.06 million, Wolf said.
The subsectors in healthcare that were most in need or most affected with labor loss are hospitals and senior care, particularly senior care, he said. Both subsectors saw increased employment in February, though hospital employment remains 2.2% below its pre-pandemic high, while senior care is down 12.0%. Senior care did experience its third consecutive month of employment gains, with December 2021 (+3,200 jobs) being the first month the subsector added jobs since January of 2020, he added.
While many roles in healthcare are continuing to experience this loss, organizations are continuing to struggle with hiring and retaining clinical talent, particularly nurses. Providers are relying on travel nursing contracts, which often cost several times what an employed nurse would cost. Burnout among nurses and other roles in care remains to be at large, also, he added.
Though this is still a great win for healthcare, Wolf believes a massive spike in healthcare employment is not expected once the public health emergency is over.
“Healthcare organizations will not be able to hire their way out this predicament,” Wolf said. “They will need to rely on technology, automation, and analytics to provide more care or otherwise support more patients with less human labor. Regarding the 63,500 job increase in February, I expect a revision downward when the March report releases on Friday, April 1.”
Once the public health emergency ends, it’s expected to see certain demands on our healthcare system reduce such as fewer COVID-related hospitalizations. On the other hand, it is also expected to see the return of non-emergent volumes, Wolf said. Many patients avoided routine screenings during the pandemic who could now be diagnosed with complex conditions they could have had an easier time treating otherwise. The only way out is to leverage and lean on technology in new ways, he added.
“The pandemic pulled forward innovation in healthcare by five to 10 years, perhaps more,” he said. “Patients and providers are comfortable with digital health tools, which go beyond simple telehealth visits. The economics of these tools will enable our healthcare system to meet patient needs despite labor shortages, while delivering the quadruple aim. The economics of these tools are also well-suited for managed care environments. We will continue to see leading technology and analytics advancements across the managed care space, including Medicare Advantage.”