Nebraska will soon be faced with widespread retirements among its health care workers, a profession already in short supply.
Keith Muller, an administrator in the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health, told university regents on Friday that more than half of the state’s health professionals are between the ages of 46 and 65. Over the next 20 years, they’ll retire.
Doctors, nurses, dentists and other health workers have been in short supply across Nebraska for several years, but Muller said the rural areas in the north and west will be hit harder going forward.
According to data collected as part of UNMC’s ongoing study of the health work force, the rural work force is older. UNMC staff members are developing a strategy to help Nebraska deal with worker shortages projected in 2020.
“It’s not enough to increase supply — you have to have programs in place to distribute that supply,” Muller said.
A lack of health workers has already been felt across Nebraska, particularly in state institutions. Administrators have cut back on patient admissions and made overtime mandatory to combat staff shortages.
A recent, nationwide survey of state health departments also says Nebraska is poised to lose more than half of its government-employed health workers to retirement over the next five years.
Paula Steib, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said Nebraska and most other states face financial problems when it comes to attracting and retaining health workers, mostly because budget restrictions prevent them from offering competitive salaries.
Steib’s group, which surveyed states in 2007 and just released the findings, has been tracking shortages in government health workers since 2003.
According to the survey, the average age of a Nebraska-employed health worker is 49; the national average is 47. The average age of a new hire in Nebraska is 42.
Over the next year, the study said, 40 percent of the state’s health workers retire. That number swells to 56 percent in the next five years.
“It’s scary,” Steib said.
The study also said 9 percent of the positions in state health agencies are open.
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