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By DAVID CAMPHOUSE
The healthcare industry in Western Illinois is facing a shortage of workers.
According to Blessing Health System’s website, Pittsfield’s Illini Community Hospital – a 25 bed hospital – currently has 36 job openings.
Illini CEO Kathy Hull said that staffing struggles at healthcare facilities are not unique to Western Illinois. However, Hull said that there are particular challenges facing smaller communities, because rural communities have a smaller pool of workers from which to draw.
“I was recently at a conference in California talking to people from metropolitan areas,” Hull said. “I think everybody is dealing with the same thing. I think it’s all over, but it’s exacerbated in rural areas because of the number of bodies.”
Currently, Hull said that the most pressing staffing issue at Illini is the need to find qualified childcare workers to fill openings at the hospital’s new childcare facility, scheduled to open in early 2022. Hull said, however, there are many more openings across almost all departments at the hospital.
“Our biggest need is childcare, because we are opening up a new service line,” Hull said. “But we have clinical openings and openings in dietary and environmental services. It’s across the board. I don’t know any one department suffering more than another.”
Hull said that some of the capacity issues faced by hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic are, in actuality, staffing issues.
“There have been cases of ICU beds all being full,” Hull said. “But in some cases, a ‘shortage of beds’ is really a shortage of people to care for the people in the beds. It’s an issue of not having the staff to care for people.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into clear view staffing issues in the healthcare industry, Hull said longer term trends have created the workforce shortage.
“It’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, but this has been brewing for a long time,” Hull said.
An aging workforce, Hull said, is creating a growing issue for healthcare facilities – an issue made worse by the disproportionately older populations in the rural communities of Western Illinois.
“It’s a numbers game,” Hull said. “The numbers of boomers who are retiring are leaving some big holes, and we are absolutely an older population.”
Ultimately, the answer to the staffing issues facing the healthcare industry, according to Hull, won’t be solved overnight and will rely on younger generations of workers.
“The long-term solution is to get kids engaged in healthcare,” Hull said. “We try to attend when the schools have career fairs to get kiddos involved. It’s going to take some effort to have young people see healthcare as a real career alternative.”
Hull encouraged parents and students to contact the Blessing-Riemann College of Nursing & Health Sciences, as well as Lincoln Land and John Wood community colleges to learn about nursing and other healthcare courses of study.
In addition, Hull said that there are funding sources available to students who want to go into the healthcare industry in rural communities.
“Because we are a rural area, we’ve got a lot of offerings for educational assistance – both state and federal,” Hull said. “We’ve got some unique opportunities that urban areas don’t have.”
To see current job openings and to apply for openings, Hull encourages job seekers to access the hospital’s website.
“They can get right online and do the application and go from there,” Hull said.
Scott County Nursing Center (SCNC) Office Manager Megan Howard and Pittsfield’s Liberty Village Administrator Billye Titus said that longterm care facilities in Western Illinois are also seeing a shortage of workers.
“It’s been challenging to find qualified healthcare professionals,” Titus said.
Titus and Howard attribute much of the staffing issue to the stress of the healthcare industry.
“A lot of people are leaving healthcare altogether,” Titus said. “They are choosing something else, whether it be factory work, or wherever else that’s hiring that isn’t healthcare. We’ve lost most of them just because they want to try something different.”
Howard agreed that many employees are choosing to leave the healthcare industry for other types of jobs.
“I think a lot of people are burnt out on healthcare,” Howard said.
The COVID-19 pandemic, according to Titus and Howard, has compounded the stress of working in the healthcare industry and encouraged more employees to leave the field.
“I think with all the extra things required for the last 18 months or two years, it wore people down,” Titus said. “People were scared of getting sick or scared of getting somebody else sick. There are countless reasons why.”
“It’s been an issue since the pandemic started,” Howard said. “There are so many regulations you have to deal with. It’ll be two years soon that we’ve been wearing masks.”
According to Titus, the most critical need of long-term care facilities is finding and retaining nurses and CNAs.
“I would say clinical staffing is the biggest struggle we have,” Titus said.
Howard stated that part of SCNC’s struggle to find CNAs and nurses is the facility’s inability to compete with larger organizations.
“You’ve got a lot of bigger companies offering people more money and sign-on bonuses,” Howard said. “We’re small, though, kind of like a mom and pop shop.”
Howard said that the family-like atmosphere of SCNC offers a supportive work environment.
“I love working here,” Howard said. “I’ve been here 11 years. I started in the kitchen and worked my way up to office manager.”
Titus encouraged job seekers to apply for Liberty Village openings at the facility’s website or Facebook page. Alternatively, applicants are welcome to apply in person.
SCNC job openings can be found on the facility’s Facebook page.