Workers needed to avoid crisis

By Brittany Abeijon

The Association of Schools of Public Health, or ASPH, predicts a shortage of health care workers that will leave the U.S. vulnerable to disease, bioterror and health threats that will effect “each and every American.”

A study done by the ASPH found that more than 250,000 additional public health workers are needed by the year 2020 in order to prevent a public health crisis.

The crisis is a culmination of previously documented and predicted shortages of public health physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, health care educators and administrators, according to a press release from the ASPH.

Dr. David Lawrence, medical director at McKinley Health Center, said there is not so much a people shortage as there is a poor distribution of health care workers.

“Public health departments perform many functions that protect the public health, but they don’t get paid very much and most have advanced degrees,” Lawrence said. “There are so many opportunities for people with advanced degrees in public health or health care, that too few choose to go into health care.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

A spike in retirement also contributed to the predicted shortage – 23 percent of the current workforce, almost 110,000 workers, will become eligible to retire during the next presidential term.

Kevin Horath, director of human resources at Carle Foundation Hospital, said the predicted amount of people eligible for retirement by the year 2020 fit into the “baby boomer” generation.

“As the baby boomers begin to retire, there are going to be more vacancies to be filled from the generation behind,” Horath said. “And the baby boomers are a huge generation.”

Horath said that although they are eligible to leave the workplace, baby boomers are also getting older, and will be at a point where they will need the available health care.

Horath said our nation is already in a shortage of public health care workers.

“We do see more people retiring and leaving the workplace,” he said. “But we also understand that boomers have a great work ethic, and they may work beyond that and choose not to retire. I do believe it will be an issue.”

In order to address these significant shortages, the ASPH suggests an increased federal investment in public health education and training.

“An appropriate number of well-trained public health professionals is critical in order to safeguard the health of our nation and our world,” said Dr. Harrison Spencer, president and chief executive officer of ASPH.

Spencer said the government and schools of public health play a significant role in preventing the predicted shortage.

Although the ASPH is calling for government assistance, Horath said he does not think the government will be able to supply enough money for this funding.

“Government assistance is great and needed, but I don’t think we should rely on the government alone,” he said.

Horath said Carle offers tuition assistance and scholarships to help students through school, but scholarships require work agreements following graduation.

“What we can’t do is wait until (2020) because then we will have a problem,” Horath said.

He suggested a more innovative approach to recruitment, such as giving incentives to people eligible to retire in order for them to stay longer until they can be replaced.

Lawrence said he hopes that everyone listens to what their federal and state elected officials are saying about their ideas for health care reform as the next election begins.

“My fear is that things must get worse before they get better,” Lawrence said. “Some very unpopular choices are looming in the future about what we should be spending our public health and health care dollars on.”