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Building a Healthy Talent Pipeline in Westchester’s Healthcare Sector

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Photo by Ben Hider

Healthcare is hot stuff in Westchester County, and the demand for talented workers in this sector is a central focus.

In addition to serving the area’s population with top-notch care, the healthcare and life science sector in our region contributes some $18 billion in economic impact and employs well over 70,000 people. To say it is a crucial part of economic and business stability in Westchester is an understatement.

That’s why the stakes are so high when it comes to ensuring a pipeline of talented healthcare workers throughout the Hudson Valley. As with many industries and sectors currently, the healthcare field is experiencing a labor shortage — both nationally and locally — that threatens to disrupt care. “Healthcare is probably the area where we have the highest shortage of workers. We’re seeing strong need for positions like certified nursing assistants (CNAs), medical assistants, and medical administrative assistants,” notes Bridget Gibbons, director of economic development for Westchester County.

At White Plains Hospital, hard-to-fill positions include those in patient accounting, medical coding, and other administrative areas, reports Diane M. Woolley, chief human resources officer. “In addition, from a patient care standpoint, we have openings in all areas of nursing, as well as for medical assistants and in the laboratory,” she says.

A nursing shortage, in play even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, is also a concern. The New York State Department of Labor projects that the number of RNs and nurse practitioners in the Hudson Valley will increase by 25.8% and 44.3%, respectively, between 2018–2028.

TRAINING TO ADDRESS THE SHORTAGE

To help fill the healthcare talent pipeline, area business organizations, hospitals/medical providers, government agencies, and schools are working together on various programs to help build a steady stream of trained employees. The Westchester County Association (WCA) is leading the way when it comes to bringing these various stakeholders together on healthcare workforce development initiatives.

The WCA recently announced the launch of its new, county-funded Healthcare Talent Pipeline Program (HTPP), which plans to recruit and train 100 job seekers and incumbent workers for high-demand healthcare jobs. Recruitment will be led by WCA, Nonprofit Westchester and its members, SUNY Westchester Community College, Southern Westchester BOCES, Career Centers as well as the Department of Social Services’ Office of Work Opportunities and its partners, explains Jason Chapin, WCA’s director of workforce development. Some of the positions the program will train for include clinical medical assistant, medical administrative assistant, and CNA; the program’s healthcare employer partners include ENT & Allergy Associates, Westmed/Summit Health, Open Door Family Medical Center, and United Hebrew of New Rochelle.

healthcare sector

Photo by Ben Hider

“We also submitted a $17 million federal grant proposal recently to train 1,000 RNs, LPNs, medical assistants, CNAs, lab technologists, and respiratory therapists in the Hudson Valley,” he says. In addition, WCA partnered with the county to host a major healthcare career fair earlier this spring.

Chapin believes an innovative way to fill some of these jobs is to look to what he calls the “hidden workforce” — the often-overlooked pool of potential employees who are underutilized. “That includes veterans, people with disabilities, immigrants, minorities, low-income youth, ex-offenders, and recovering addicts,” Chapin explains, adding that the new HTPP program will largely pull from these populations. “We should look at the largest talent pool possible in order to quickly employ as many people as possible to fill these open positions.”

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Whether they come from typical or disadvantaged backgrounds, Westchesterites seeking careers in healthcare have plenty of options. There are eight accredited nursing schools in the county; New York Medical College makes its home in Valhalla and Touro College of Dental Medicine’s campus is nearby in Hawthorne; while Westchester Community College offers a wide array of degree and certificate programs in all sorts of health-related fields including pharmacy technician, medical administrative assistant, phlebotomy, CNA and others. And, NewYork-Presbyterian recently partnered with Iona College to develop the NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences, which offers programs in key growth areas including nurse anesthesia, clinical nurse specialist, medical technician, and nursing administration.

Hospital

Photo by Ben Hider

OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERNAL ADVANCEMENT

In many cases, once employees get their foot in the door with a healthcare employer, there are frequent opportunities for career advancement and ongoing training. White Plains Hospital, for example, offers an “Earn While You Learn” program which, Wooley explains, “provides employees with education, training and job placement to help fill jobs that often require a specific skill set or specialty education that can be hard to find.” It’s one part of the hospital’s overall strategy to keep a robust talent pipeline at the ready — for both recruitment and retention of talent. “We have a creative and innovative overall recruiting strategy, which includes establishing internal and external talent pipelines, developing incentive bonuses for hard-to-fill positions, and offering highly competitive benefits,” she explains.

“Healthcare is probably the area where we have the highest shortage of workers. We’re seeing strong need for positions like certified nursing assistants, medical assistants, and medical administrative assistants.”
– Bridget Gibbons, Director of Economic Development, Westchester County

Other initiatives at the hospital include a summer associate program and winter nurse associate program, which offer junior nursing students entering their senior year of high school an opportunity to experience firsthand what it is like to be a nurse. The hospital has also partnered with the WCA on a “jobs waiting” program, where “we will offer mentoring, clinical experiences, work tryouts, and tuition assistance for career-advancement training,” Wooley explains.

Similarly, at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, employees can participate in on-the-job trainings, including the newly developed Operating Room Technician Residency program and the Registered Nurse Residency program. NewYork-Presbyterian also offers a paid summer internship experience for family members of employees. “In partnership with select community-based organizations across New York City and Westchester, our program will place participants at various clinical and non-clinical departments across NewYork-Presbyterian for on-premises experiences,” says Laurie Ann Walsh, MSN, RN, DNP, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services for the hospital. The goal of the internship program, Walsh says, is to “expose young adults to the breadth and depth of hospital professions.”

Healthcare sector

NewYork-Presbyterian recently partnered with Iona College to develop the NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences. Programs include training for nurse specialists, medical technicians, and other in-demand professions. Photo by Ben Hider

In addition, “we offer numerous programs for basic training and skill development (such as basic computer skills, medical terminology), and other programs to enhance technical, clinical, and leadership development such as the residency programs, nursing leadership academy, continuing education and mentorship programs, as well as a comprehensive tuition reimbursement program for advancement of staff careers within healthcare,” she adds.

While there are still thousands of unfilled healthcare positions in Westchester at any given time, it’s clear the industry is coming together with a cohesive path to help shrink that gap. And for Westchester residents looking for a career path with plenty of job security, healthcare is certainly a solid choice.

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