Alabama healthcare worker

A tired nurse takes a break in a hallway.

(The Center Square) – Against the backdrop of a national trend, an Alabama legislative panel is exploring methods of shoring up deficits that have arisen in the state’s health care worker pool in recent years.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests about 20% of the health care industry’s workforce has departed the field since the onset of the pandemic. In Alabama, the trend has impacted a number of specific jobs, including certified nursing assistants, EMT and paramedics, and licensed practical nurses for assisted living facilities.

In recent months, the Alabama Healthcare Workforce Task Force has been meeting to look at ways of streamlining the link between college and university students and employers.

The task force was created in Alabama’s 2022 legislative session through Senate Joint Resolution 62.

The task force’s most recent meeting, held Nov. 17, included one firm recommendation – ramping up efforts with the Alabama Dental Association to bring programs into rural areas of the state – and discussing additional efforts in other health care professions with consultants.

Greg DiDonato with the firm EBSCO Information Services was among the speakers at the meeting.

DiDonato discussed a pilot effort that is in the works and is designed to comb through college student data, work with state college and university apprenticeship offices, and provide a database of job opportunities within the state in targeted health care jobs.

The goal, DiDonato said, is to have the database up and running in the first quarter of 2023.

“We are in the process of going through student data,” DiDonato said. “Ultimately, the goal is to expand the opportunities that are seen, outside of the traditional job partnerships. We are looking to expand those opportunities.”

While online job boards provide regular listings of available positions, DiDonato said the pilot database project would create a more comprehensive, better organized, and more user-friendly list of jobs that are available.

The meeting included a discussion of what state agencies and higher-education officials can do to better harness federal funds for health care workforce development within Alabama.

A report shared at the meeting indicated federal funds are, at times, missed within Alabama for a number of reasons, including a lack of collaboration and resources within state government.

The goal, according to the task force, is to conduct a wholesale review of how health care workforce opportunities can be enhanced – particularly since some specific medical professions are inherently dependent on others.

“It’s amazing to me the amount of work that has taken place these past few months, and the amount of work that has been done,” said state Sen. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, who chairs the task force.

As outlined in SJR62, the task force will be meeting for years to come – at least through 2026. The panel has been tasked with preparing annual reports to the state Legislature on findings, conclusions and possible legislative recommendations.