Hawaii healthcare employers call for less travel nurse usage, hiring ‘clinical educators,’ and conducting high school recruitment efforts to address workforce shortage


Shane Ersland


Hawaii healthcare workforce professionals discussed initiatives designed to attract much-needed workers to the field during the 2023 Hawaii State of Reform Health Policy Conference.


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Janna Hoshide, senior director of healthcare workforce development at Healthcare Association of Hawaii (HAH), referenced the 2022 Healthcare Workforce Initiative Report HAH released a couple months ago. The report showed that Hawaii’s need for healthcare professionals has grown by 76% since 2019, when HAH released its inaugural report.

“In 2019, we reported a shortage of 2,200 positions,” Hoshide said. “In 2022, we’re reporting close to 4,000 position openings.”

While recruiting new workers is challenging, employers must remain vigilant in their retention efforts as well. Hawaii Center for Nursing Director Laura Reichhardt said the center conducted a survey in 2021, which showed that 25% of the nursing workforce said they were so stressed out they considered leaving the profession. Both increased workloads and financial compensation are contributing to retention challenges.

“Our CNOs say nurses are doing a lot more work, and that they need and deserve to be cared for,” Reichhardt said. “Everybody is looking at compensation, but you can see so many other things are happening above and beyond compensation. We still have a lot of travelers. Travelers don’t [know] the community’s culture and they cost a lot. So if we can move away from that and move into person-centered recruitment and retention, that does a lot.”

Ohana Pacific Health CEO Wesley Lo said the organization has attempted to recruit nurses through several different initiatives. Ohana started a CNA educational program, as well as an apprenticeship program, which both resulted in several participants being hired into professional positions. But the retention rates were nil.

“We started a school and nobody stayed,” Lo said. “But we learned a lesson. We weren’t identifying what the real problem was. The problem was there were no LPN schools. So we started an LPN program because we couldn’t hire LPNs. We cannot rely only on our educational partners. We’re hiring clinical educators.”

Carl Hinson, director of workforce development at Hawaii Pacific Health, said the company is focusing on educating potential workers through high school programs.

“We’re working on getting into the high schools, making sure these children have an opportunity to learn about becoming a medical assistant or some of the other programs,” Hinson said. “It’s also partnering with our Department of Education. We have several programs in high schools.”

Hawaii Pacific Health has programs for medical assistants, acute care nursing, phlebotomy, and patient service representatives, Hinson said.

“We have a program where senior nursing students are now going through the equivalent of a nurse residency and specialty training,” he said. “When they finish that we employ them immediately as a graduate nurse. And they’re able to work side by side with the rest of our nursing staff.”

The company has graduated a total of 368 students through programs from 16 participating high schools, Hinson said. Moving forward, the company is looking at expanding to include high school programs for community health work, emergency medical technicians, surgical technologists, ultrasonography, and billing and copay.

Hawaii/Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center Director Kelley Withy, MD, said the organization started a new mentoring program.

“We started culturally-based mentoring,” Withy said. “We’re partnering with recruiters and doing anything we can to get more providers here, keep them here, and keep them happy. We’ve had a loan repayment program for 10 years. It is half federally funded, and half locally funded, whether by the legislature or philanthropy.”

Reinie Gerrits-Goh, PhD, senior policy and data analyst for the University of Hawaii’s new Rural Health Research and Policy Center, said the center is focusing on policy.

“We were established in November, so we’re still very new,” Gerrits-Goh said. “We’re trying to make policy happen to service the community.”

The center plans to distribute surveys to determine the most important health needs of rural communities, Gerrits-Goh said.