Expanding opportunities for direct care workers in Arizona

Heidi Kemmer is Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Layla Bishop is Workforce Development Administrator (WFDA) with UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Arizona.

UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Arizona is supporting an effort to grow the health care workforce in their state by participating in the design, development and promotion of a new Healthcare Career Hub platform.

The new site serves both health care job seekers and employers, providing a central point for information. Health care professionals can find jobs, employers can post open positions, and those interested in entering the field can explore career pathways and educational opportunities. Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) and Pipeline AZ are leading the development in collaboration with UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Arizona and other local organizations.

The platform will contribute to building a strong and sustainable health care workforce to serve Arizona communities.

Goals for the Healthcare Career Hub include:

  • Helping relieve the health care workforce shortage in Arizona
  • Providing rewarding career pathways for health care workers
  • Assisting medical organizations and providers with staffing their facilities
  • Encouraging enrollment in health care courses and training programs
  • Improving access to health care for all individuals

The services provided by platform include:

  • A job board where health care organizations throughout Arizona can post clinical and nonclinical open positions
  • An ability for employers in the field to recruit new employees and match job seekers to open positions based on their skill
  • An ability for existing employees and job seekers to use the platform’s job board and career planning tools to find jobs and map out their health care career trajectories
  • An assessment component to help people identify career paths in health care that may be a good fit for them
  • Information on certifications, degree programs, fast-track training and mentorship opportunities
  • Career data, including salary potential
  • Tracking for workforce organizations
  • Skills-mapping technology that helps connect students and job seekers in the health care field with prospective employers. AHCCCS and its contracted managed care plans’ workforce development teams will help job seekers connect with home health care providers.

Health care worker shortage in Arizona grows more acute

In 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked Arizona 48th in the nation for the number of health care workers per capita.1 Since then, the shortage has become even more dire.

Arizona is experiencing one of the most severe hospital staffing shortages and health care shortages in the United States. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with increased employee burnout, more nurse retirements and not enough newly trained nurses to replace them. The most in-demand health care workers in Arizona are registered nurses, medical records specialists, physicians, pharmacy technicians, and licensed practical and vocational nurses.2

In addition, Arizona, like much of the nation, is experiencing a shortage of direct care workers, attributed partly to the lack of a known entry point to the field, followed by a lack of a defined path for career development.

Need for direct care workers will continue to expand

In Arizona, 46.3% of adults 75 or older are living with a disability.3 A survey conducted by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) found that Arizona will need more than 130,000 new direct care workers by 2026.4

The Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) notes, “For years, states have been grappling with how to meaningfully support direct care workers (DCWs) — many of whom are living at or near the poverty level. The pandemic heightened the urgency to attract new workers to the field and strengthen the direct care workforce, especially as more older adults and people with disabilities seek to avoid institutions and receive home- and community-based services (HCBS). As the need and demand for HCBS continue to rise, there will be a dire need for more and more DCWs to fill the critical role.”5

A study by the CHCS identified that developing online platforms for DCWs and employers and coordinating data with state agencies were two strategies that would help ensure workforce development.6

Health care is the leading sector for job growth

According to Arizona’s Office of Economic Opportunity, the health care and social assistance sector currently represents approximately 13.7% of the state’s workforce and is the leading sector of future job growth over the next decade.7 The Arizona Nurses Association notes that several new programs are partnering with higher education institutions to focus on increasing capacity within nursing education.”7

The new health care hub is an example of such partnerships. In addition to serving currently qualified workers, the innovative site helps inspire students to pursue health care careers with the goal of alleviating workforce shortages far into the future. Through Pipeline AZ’s partnerships with the Arizona Department of Education and five community college districts throughout the state, students from kindergarten through college will be able to explore caregiving career pathways and education opportunities.

Investing in workforce development will build a healthier future

“Together, we are building the critical infrastructure needed to support Arizona’s health care talent pipelines for decades to come,” says Mary Foote, CEO of Pipeline AZ. “As our population continues to age and our state’s health care needs grow and evolve, investing in workforce development resources will enable us to build a healthy ecosystem where patients have access to quality care, health care institutions have a strong workforce, and health care professionals are on meaningful and fulfilling career paths.”

UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Arizona is committed to collaborating to build a robust, diverse health care workforce to drive equitable access to care. Supporting a program that provides health care career opportunities for those needing employment while also increasing access to health care offers two practical, powerful solutions for the well-being of Arizona communities.

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