Q&A: Healthcare Association of Hawaii on strengthening the health workforce


Nicole Pasia


The Healthcare Association of Hawaii (HAH) this month announced Colleen Leopoldino would join as the Manager of Workforce Development. In this role, Leopoldino will work with HAH’s Healthcare Workforce Initiative (HWI) as the liaison to high school programs and other workforce programs. 

HWI produced its first report in 2019, which spurred actions to improve the state’s health workforce. For example, Hawaii Pacific University recently established the first doctorate of physical therapy program in the state, which was a high-vacancy profession previously identified in the HWI report.

In this Q&A, Leopoldino and Janna Hoshide, HAH Director of Workforce Development, discuss their goals of strengthening the health workforce education pipeline and addressing the ongoing workforce shortage.


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State of Reform: How is HAH currently working to develop the education to health workforce pipeline?

Janna Hoshide: “Students can be trained to complete their credentials and that there’s opportunities and additional support while they’re in the program to transition straight into a job. After that, we’re looking at an alternative pathway for them. So, how do they continue to earn and learn at the same time and progress towards higher education, higher credentials, or post secondary education and pursue career advancement at the same time in an employed model? 

That is really our vision and that was the reason why we’re bringing Colleen on, to really work on how we act on these opportunities. There are still some challenges in getting this underway. We’re really working closely with the [University of Hawaii] community college system to remove some of the barriers, and we actually created a new term called a “glide path.” The glide path is really meant to support folks in this alternative pathway to earn and learn at the same time. We’re working with UH to make it the most efficient pathway, where [academic] credits stack, where the schedule works between education and your work schedule. 

Also at the high school level, we’re working closely with the high schools on how we implement some of these certificate programs: phlebotomists, nurse aides, patient service representatives. Those are the things that Colleen is going to be working on and implementing them at the high school level. We also integrate the employers into that training, so students interact directly with employers, and there’s opportunities for them to apply and transition straight into employment with additional clinical hands-on training from employers.”

SOR: Colleen, how are you feeling about the work you have ahead? 

Colleen Leopoldino: “I don’t think it’s an easy task, but it’s one that I am really looking forward to. I’ve always had a passion to make a difference in my community. In my personal life, I’ve tried to do that through volunteering, donating, and things of that nature. When I learned about this opportunity with Jana, it was nice to see that there was an opportunity for me to make a difference also in my professional life and do something that was meaningful and fulfilling. While I think there’s a lot of work to be done, I’m excited about what we’re doing and able to do in this area.”

SOR: Community partnerships can play an important role in strengthening the workforce. How are you looking to approach partnering with the community colleges and high school programs?

CL: “I do think that most people are actually pretty open [to collaboration]. They see this as a great opportunity and a win-win for the community, for employers, for students. So I do think this is perfect timing to start having those discussions and engaging, because I think people are really open. I do believe that there’s going to be work ahead. We’re all going to have to make compromises and maybe do things we’ve never done before and do things that we were uncomfortable with. But I think this is perfect timing and I actually think people will be really open to considering these things as it’s going to benefit all of us in the end.”

SOR: A key part of workforce discussions is the role of data, especially from different health care silos. How can we improve the role of data in solving the workforce shortage?

JH: “Part of this effort in creating these glide path experiences is that we have brought together the health care industry and education. We’re working hand in hand on these projects. When we’re experimenting with these new types of earn-and-learn programs, we’re spending a lot of time together talking about what the data elements are that we’re capturing that are important from an employer standpoint, from an education standpoint, and from a community standpoint.

It’s also part of the learning process. ‘What are things that we might need to improve on in the future, but also what’s working well? How can we then leverage that to expand these types of opportunities in the future?’ Data is very, very critical and important, as you have mentioned, we are also looking at capturing data and also having goals around increasing equity and representation in health care. So health care education programs, as well as health care jobs overall. These are very important aspects that we are also working with community partners on, and it really gets down to what are the specific data elements that are important to us, and making sure that we are all working towards capturing that data, and then also improving those metrics.”

This interview was edited for clarity and length.