Health care payrolls recover, still lagging pre-pandemic levels

Diving Brief:

  • The country’s health sector added 28,000 jobs in May, including an increase of 16,000 hospital workers, although the industry continues to operate with fewer employees than before the pandemic began, the report said. the government on Friday. Overall, nonfarm payroll employment in the United States increased by 390,000, with the unemployment rate unchanged for a third consecutive month at 3.6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • The healthcare sub-sectors with the largest labor gains after hospitals were outpatient services, doctors’ offices, and nursing and residential care facilities, with about 6,000 new employees each. Dental offices, ambulatory care centers and home health services each added 1,000 workers in May.
  • Health care employment is down 1.3%, or 223,000 jobs, from pre-pandemic levels. By comparison, total nonfarm payrolls are down 0.5%, or 822,000, from February 2020.

Overview of the dive:

The healthcare sector continues its slow and uneven recovery from the sharp contraction in the workforce seen in the early months of the pandemic, when many healthcare workers who were not directly caring for COVID-19 patients 19 had to deal with furloughs or reduced hours.

BLS figures show the health care workforce has gained 18,000 jobs so far this year in January, 64,000 in February, 8,000 in March and 34,000 in April, on top of the May expansion.

Staff shortages in the sector have persisted during the pandemic, particularly during increases in the number of coronavirus cases. Hospitals reporting critical staffing shortages during the omicron wave in early 2022 peaked at 22% in mid-January, according to a seven-day average tracked by HHS, cited in a report last month from the Office of the Assistant Secretary. planning and evaluation. . In mid-March, after nationwide COVID-19 case rates declined, the seven-day average returned to 9%.

A 2021 report from the HHS Office of Inspector General found that many hospitals were reporting shortages of nurses in particular, raising concerns about patient safety and quality of care. Staff shortages have led to high turnover and competition for workers. Last month, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned that burnout among healthcare workers was contributing to persistent staffing shortages.

The OIG report noted that longer hours, more responsibilities, and witnessing COVID-related deaths are taking their toll on hospital staff, leading to burnout, mental fatigue, and trauma. Staff involved in direct patient care have also faced disproportionate mortality from COVID-19.

High staff turnover has forced hospitals to resort to contract labor, which has helped to drive up labor costs for operators. A number of nonprofit medical systems reported losses in the first quarter, in part due to rising costs associated with widespread worker shortages.

Even before the pandemic hit, some geographies, including many rural communities, faced long-standing challenges with healthcare staffing, which have been exacerbated by the public health crisis. Shortages of health care providers such as registered nurses, primary care physicians and behavioral health specialists were predicted even before the pandemic.

According to the BLS, the sectors with notable employment gains in May were recreation and hospitality (84,000 jobs), professional and business services (75,000), transportation and warehousing (47,000) and construction (36,000), while the retail sector recorded a loss of 61,000.

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