Report shows staffing levels, burnout, and rising healthcare costs are primary concerns for Pacific Northwest health professionals


Shane Ersland


The top three concerns for health professionals in the Pacific Northwest are staffing levels, provider/staff burnout, and rising healthcare costs, according to a recent study.


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Schwabe and The Business Journals surveyed healthcare professionals to get a better understanding of the state of the industry, both now and in the future, and provide key insights on industry trends and growth opportunities. The State of Healthcare in the Pacific Northwest report examines the experiences and concerns of 600 healthcare executives, providers, employees, and patients.

“I was happy to see how positive the results were, overall, about the state of healthcare in the Northwest,” said Anne Talcott, Healthcare and Life Sciences industry group leader at Schwabe. “The COVID-19 pandemic amplified some issues that already existed. But it also showed that the industry could respond. Telemedicine use and the implementation of technological advances may have taken longer to occur if the pandemic had not happened. There was a lot of optimism.”

A majority of patients who responded to the survey said they are at least somewhat satisfied with the quality of care, convenience and accessibility of the healthcare they received. Oregon ranked higher for quality of care, with 86% of respondents noting satisfaction, in comparison to Washington’s 77%.

Oregon and Washington patients had differing views on negative impressions of healthcare. Oregon respondents were at least 15% more concerned about cost, lack of access, and understanding health-related documents. Nearly 10% more Washington residents say unequal access to care among various socioeconomic and racial groups drives their negative perceptions of the industry.

Respondent comments suggested that greater price transparency, promoting healthcare literacy, and incentives to support positive behaviors may motivate patients to become more active in their healthcare.

Staffing shortages and employee burnout topped concerns across all respondents. The report found that 72% of Northwest healthcare workers said the continuing shortage of trained/experienced providers and staff will be the biggest trend affecting the industry over the next one to two years.

Kelly Riggs, an employment lawyer and member of Schwabe’s Healthcare and Life Sciences group, said several factors are affecting the healthcare workforce in the states.

“A number of people are exiting healthcare careers,” Riggs said. “And providers and staff are needing more time off work. They are having their own healthcare issues.”

Various recruitment/staffing initiatives could help improve challenges, Riggs said. Oregon’s House Bill 2697 aims to implement minimum nurse-to-patient staffing standards at hospitals. The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and state labor unions initially disagreed on the bill, but two sides recently came to a compromise in supporting it

“That bill is aimed at ensuring hospitals have minimum levels of nurse staff at any time,” Riggs said. “Many hospitals are having difficulty hiring and recruiting staff. This bill would increase staffing levels. It should help alleviate day-to-day burnout if and when it gets implemented.”

Talcott noted that a third of survey respondents identified the use of technology as another way to reduce healthcare employee burnout. 

“Telemedicine has greatly increased in use since the pandemic, and also using technology to increase workflow allows staff to treat more patients and improve the staff-to-patient ratio,” Talcott said. “Things like patient portals for intake and workflow allow faculties to improve the staff-to-patient ratio. A challenge to that could be access, however. Rural areas have difficulty with internet access.”