COVID-19 reinforces urgency to address the health care workforce shortage

By Heddy Nam and Ariana Oliva

Our economic and workforce landscape has changed dramatically in a matter of days. On the one hand, employers in many industries impacted by COVID-19 had to make the difficult decision to lay off or furlough employees, while others are experiencing an unprecedented demand for laborIn the health care industry, the current situation has highlighted and exacerbated the existing workforce shortage. Amid this crisis, the Health Care Sector Collaborative is working on solutions to connect skilled health care professionals with hospitals and other health care facilities. For instance, UNITE-LA has been coordinating HSC members, the Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC) and the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti to determine if health care staff employed by education systems and institutions could be redirected to assist in hospitals and other health care facilities given temporary school closures.

Additionally, the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti has launched a job portal to assist Angelenos economically impacted by COVID-19 to find rapid re-employment. At the request of the Mayor’s Office, UNITE-LA has been coordinating with health care employers to ensure that jobs in the health care industry are posted to this site. Additionally, HASC and the California Community Colleges Health Workforce Initiative, both members of the HSC, have launched a job portal focused specifically on helping hospitals fill the workforce shortage. The jobs include both health care professions and non-clinical jobs such as cooks, drivers, activities assistants and others. The Mayor’s Office and UNITE-LA will work with L.A. Compact partners – including the L.A. Workforce Systems Collaborative - to develop rapid re-employment strategies to help un- or under-employed Angelenos previously working in impacted industries (food service, retail and hospitality) find jobs in health care settings.

COVID-19 has not only affected the current but also the future health care workforce. Because health care facilities are turning all resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic, they have closed their clinical training sites. Many students studying to become health care professionals, such as Registered Nurses, are finding themselves in their final semester unable to complete their clinical training requirements. The Chancellor of the California Community Colleges has submitted a request to Gov. Gavin Newsom's office for emergency condition exceptions. Specifically, the request is for the California Board of Registered Nursing to provide emergency exceptions to bring down the requirement of 75 percent clinical hours in direct patient care to 50 percent. In addition, the community colleges are exploring alternative options for delivering clinical training by including telehealth or telephone triage options as well as exploring Virtual Reality (VR) software for simulations and skill labs portions of curricula. Finally, all U.S. and Canada-based test centers for National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) have closed beginning March 17 through at least April 16 due to COVID-19. The schedule for resuming testing will be another issue monitored closely by HSC members. Addressing clinical training requirements and making NCLEX testing available again will be essential for nurses in training to graduate on time and join the workforce to provide essential health care services amidst a worker shortage.

In addition, the HSC will continue its work to enroll and support students in the health care career pipeline. Bcoordinating employer, education, non-profit CBO, and philanthropic partners, UNITE-LA is committed to supporting HSC members to develop ways to provide work-based learning opportunities and summer work experiences in health care. This will be an ongoing challenge due to the impact on health care facilities, closure of schools, and temporary inability to provide in-person learning. However, HSC members are committed to ensuring that lessons from the front lines of health care around COVID-19 are shared with students to deepen their learning and connection to these careers.  

The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the urgent need to address the health care workforce shortage. With HSC partners coming together, this moment is an opportunity to strengthen existing partnerships to create solutions to meet the industry’s workforce needs and to inspire a new generation of health care professionals. Once we as a community are able to move out of emergency response mode, the HSC will be assessing the impact on health care and education and work to develop recommendations for policymakers and leaders to eliminate the health care workforce gap.  

Finally, the HSC wishes to extend a deep and heartfelt thank you to all the medical, nursing and allied health care professionals and non-clinical staff who are on the front lines taking care of our sickest and preventing the spread of COVID-19. Your work and commitment have not gone unnoticed. We will continue our efforts to bolster your work through workforce solutions.  


UNITE-LA staff Heddy Nam, Director of Workforce Development, and AJ Lucas, Workforce Development Coordinator convene and coordinate the Health Sector Collaborative. Ariana Oliva, Early Childhood Education Manager for the L.A. Compact, co-authored this post.  


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