New OSU report illustrates severe crises within Oregon’s healthcare workforce


Shane Ersland


A new Oregon State University (OSU) report shows a severe crisis within the state’s healthcare workforce and calls for several measures to address it.


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OSU contracted with the Oregon Health Authority to develop the report for the Oregon Health Policy Board, fulfilling legislation that requires biennial assessments of the state’s healthcare workforce, and inform the legislature of findings. 

The report states that the healthcare sector saw significant job losses during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which have largely been regained over the past year. But Dr. Tao Li, an assistant professor at OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and the report’s lead author, said researchers did not have enough data to analyze the long-term physical and emotional impacts the pandemic had on providers. 

“We all understood that burnout among healthcare providers would be high, especially during the pandemic,” Li said in a statement. “When we really dug into the report and compiled the existing data from different areas, we noted that there is a severe healthcare crisis. Healthcare workers really need support, because the burnout level is just higher than I expected.

If we want to make sure everyone in Oregon can get good healthcare, we need to invest in the strong foundation of the healthcare workforce. When they don’t get enough support and get burned out, it will have many negative consequences. It will cost us money and quality of care. We need to address this problem, both nationally and in Oregon.”

The report issues many recommendations to improve the supply, distribution, diversity, and resiliency of healthcare workers. Researchers also highlighted the need to expand and clarify career pathways and training for many segments of the workforce.

In order to improve the supply and distribution of the healthcare workforce, the report calls for the continual funding of financial incentives to increase opportunities for training and education, such as the Health Care Provider Incentive Program. It also states a need to invest in workforce training through the public workforce system and allied health educational partners.

To address the diversity of healthcare workers, the report calls for increased investments in training, recruiting, and retaining healthcare workers who can provide culturally and linguistically responsive care. It also states the need to reduce barriers to entry and advancement for people of color in the workforce.

To enhance the resiliency and well-being of the workforce, the report calls for a coordination of collective actions from public and private stakeholders and community partners to cultivate a health system that supports workers. This includes action to create trauma-informed, anti-racist workplaces. It also calls for investment in assessments and research to inform evidence-based and practice-based strategies to optimize the workforce’s well-being.

In order to expand training opportunities and career pathways, the report states a need to ensure adequate numbers of faculty and clinical training placements for nurses and other licensed professionals. It also states a need to establish and fund clear pathways for positions that do not have defined career ladders based on licensure, with progression toward increased pay. 

The report also states needs to expand telehealth services, improved access to linguistically-appropriate services, improved data collection to promote evidence-informed strategies, and finding ways to increase compensation for traditional health workers, including peer wellness specialists and interpreters who are underpaid and represent rural regions.