Nursing in Northeast Ohio is in critical condition

Regional health care staffing remains a challenge as baby boomers sunset into retirement.

Although health systems in Northeast Ohio are looking for skilled workers in nearly every position, the top priority for all of them is finding a nurse.

“Every RN is the golden goose,” said Tony Montville, the Cleveland branch manager for Medical Staffing Network, a national health care staffing company. “The nirvana of recruiting success is being able to get a good, solid RN.”

Northeast Ohio faces a projected shortage of 3,500 nurses by 2020 — a fate that hospital officials throughout the region are working to address.

While nurses are the No. 1 need, nurse practitioners, medical assistants and other health care extenders are all top of mind — as well as entry-level positions across the board.

Health care is facing the same challenge as many industries: The baby boomers are sunsetting into retirement, setting many employers up for a frantic search of experienced workers. But for health care, the hit is two fold: As their providers retire, the aging population of Northeast Ohio will continue to demand more care.

The problem becomes exponential, said Pat Cirillo, vice president of initiatives and analytics for the Center for Health Affairs, an advocacy group for Northeast Ohio hospitals. The average 75 or 80 year old uses five to six times more health care than an average 55 year old, she said.

“As we talk about shortages in workforce, you have to get beyond just, ‘Oh, they’re not out there’ to ‘How do you go find them?’ and ‘How do you partner with the right organizations?’ and in some cases, ‘How do you build your own?'” said Maria Miller, system director for talent acquisition for Summa Health.

A registered nurse is by far the most common job posting on, a state-sponsored job posting portal, with roughly 4,200 annual job openings, according to a November 2016 report from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Nationwide, registered nurses are projected to add the second highest number of jobs between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The annual mean wage for registered nurses in Ohio is $62,800, according to 2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“There’s just not enough RNs, so we have to pull together as a region and tackle that,” said Kim Shelnick, vice president of talent acquisition for University Hospitals. “And there’s other areas where there’s shortages too — it’s just not in RNs. But the need is so large for RNs, that’s where we put a lot of our effort.”

Shifting inward

Nursing In Northeast Ohio

In addition to nurses and other health care professionals heading into retirement, several hundred registered nurses in Northeast Ohio have shifted to roles as care navigators or care managers to help guide and assist patients, especially during the Medicaid expansion.

“Those are folks who were working in a traditional health care setting, (and) now suddenly, they’re pulled into the community to work with a specific set of patients, chronically ill folks,” Cirillo said.

The ongoing growth of a nurse’s role is dynamic enough that “we’re going to constantly have a need for new nurses in the future,” said Chris Reardon, Cleveland Clinic’s executive director of talent acquisition.

For example, MetroHealth has nurses in various non-clinical roles in departments where their direct clinical experience can help, including the quality, informatics, purchasing and research departments. While these other roles can help attract more people to nursing, it also pulls more nurses from bedside care.

Nurse staffing is “always a big risk for us,” said Cheryl VanHorn, MetroHealth’s director of talent acquisition.

Compounding the need for nurses, she said, is the system’s recent growth and efforts to expand patient access.

Miller said that Summa’s need for nurses — and any way the system addresses that need — must go hand-in-hand with the search for more medical assistants and other clinical roles that help physicians.

Drumming up interest

The shift toward population health, keeping patients well and preventing, rather than treating, illness means a need across the board for different skills and more employees, Miller said.

“I think for us, it really is about connecting the individuals out in the community with the opportunities that we have at Summa,” she said. “And doing that in multiple ways that really position us to attract candidates.”

Summa, and others, are doing this through various partnerships with educational and other organizations to create and support a pipeline to health care careers — from getting children interested to ensuring clinical opportunities for students to making sure there’s awareness around the non-clinical careers in health care organizations.

Portraying the non-clinical career paths within health care is a big challenge the Clinic is working on, Reardon said

“I don’t know that we’ve necessarily done that as well as we could have done recently,” he said. “I think the challenge is helping people understand how these components of a corporate entity like marketing and finance and accounting, how those play a part in us being so good at the clinical services that we provide.”

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Coutre, Lydia. (2017, January 28).  Nursing in Northeast Ohio is in critical condition.  Crain’s Cleveland Business.  Retrieved from