Report: Academic Health Centers Innovating to Address Workforce Crisis

March 21, 2024
Blue Ridge Academic Health Group report highlights new care delivery models, educational partnerships

A new report from the Blue Ridge Academic Health Group describes innovations that health centers can undertake to address the ongoing healthcare workforce crisis.

Formed in 1997 by leaders of several academic health centers (AHCs), the Blue Ridge Academic Health Group (BRAHG) studies and  reports  on issues of fundamental importance to improving the healthcare system, with special focus on the role of AHCs. 

The healthcare industry has been grappling with significant staffing shortages for years, a problem that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the report, “there simply are not enough healthcare professionals to keep the nation’s healthcare system operating.”  

A study in 2019 found that 6.1 percent of hospitals were experiencing a nursing vacancy rate greater than 15 percent; by 2022, that number had jumped nearly 10-fold to 61.2 percent. Another report found that 85 percent of healthcare facilities experienced at least a moderate shortage of allied healthcare professionals in October 2022.  In addition, in 2019 the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported a national physician shortage of about 20,000 FTEs, and it projected that by 2030 that shortage would increase to between 50,000 and more than 100,000.

The authors of the report examine the crisis' long-term implications, emphasizing the opportunities academic health centers have to address the issue. The report calls for collaboration among healthcare delivery organizations, educational institutions, professional and advocacy organizations, and policymakers. 

Jeff Balser,  M.D., Ph.D., is president and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and co-chair of the June 2023 meeting where BRAHG members began work on the report. “Given their mission to drive research and training, AHCs as centers of innovation can and will play a leading role in exploring and developing solutions to the staffing crisis,” he said in a statement. “There is an urgent need to address the workforce shortage from two directions: increasing the pipeline to better meet staffing demands going forward, and introducing innovative solutions that can reduce the total workforce needed.”  

Co-chairing the meeting with Balser was Jonathan Lewin, M.D., professor at Emory University School of Medicine and Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta. 

The report outlines a number of promising solutions already in various stages of development by AHCs. Centers are:

• Implementing new care delivery models that optimize skill mix; reducing demand for high-acuity services by expanding primary care; shifting patients to less costly alternative sites like urgent care, retail clinics, and hospital-at-home programs.
• AHCs are partnering with their affiliated universities and with community colleges to expand education and training programs.
• Centers are leveraging information technology, including artificial intelligence, to enhance hospital operations, diagnostics, and decision support.
• AHCs are improving retention through better compensation, recognition, and workplace culture.

The report concludes that AHCs will need to join with other healthcare delivery organizations, educational institutions, and professional and advocacy organizations to share ideas, establish clearer regulations, and invest in workforce development. They also will increasingly need to work with policymakers to establish clearer rules and standards around staffing models and license permissions and expand workforce and graduate medical education funding.

The membership of the Blue Ridge Group (BRG) consists of an "ad hoc" group of academic health center (AHC) leaders, health policy experts, and health policy thought leaders. Membership is by invitation only, and members are nominated and elected by the existing BRG members at the annual business meeting, which occurs during the annual policy retreat. Membership in recent years has remained relatively constant, at between 15 and 20 members. 



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