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MGMA: Practices still struggling with staffing challenges

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Data shows some encouraging trends, but filling positions proving difficult with costs increasing

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a host of problems for medical practices, with staffing challenges being the latest one. Like many businesses, practices have struggled to find qualified staff as people have left the workforce or found higher paying positions.

New data from the Medical Group Management Association illustrates the scope of the challenges but includes some encouraging signs. The health care sector added 18,000 jobs in January after losing 3,100 jobs in December. Of the jobs added in January, more than 81% were in the ambulatory care space, with 9,700 of 14,700 being in physician offices.

These gains are not equal across all medical groups. Seasonally adjusted BLS data on quits levels showed sustained levels of quits in the health care and social assistance industry in the past five months, ranging from as low as 503,000 quits in December 2021 to a peak of 592,000 quits in November 2021, all of which are well above the quits level of 419,000 in December 2020.

Estimates from late 2021 suggest the U.S. health care sector saw 18% of all staff quit a job since the pandemic started in 2020, and that almost one-third (31%) of remaining workers have thought about leaving their employer, according to Morning Consult.

Overall, the data shows that employment across the health care industry in the United States remains roughly 377,000 jobs below pre-pandemic levels in February 2020. This ongoing exodus of health care workers adds strain to an industry still working to address patient demand and worker shortages.

According to the MGMA, workers are leaving for better pay and benefits at another organization (59%), followed by burnout (21%), “other” (13%) and retirement/left workforce (7%). The reasons listed for “other” include leaving to care for family, desire to work remotely, relocation because of spouse job change.

Practice leaders indicate that staff turnover rates worsened (41%) in the last quarter or stayed about the same (33%) as previous quarters, compared to only 26% who said turnover recently slowed.

As a result of the high turnover rates and increasing inflation, practices are having to budget more for cost-of-living increases for staff members. Recent U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Employment Cost Index reports found compensation costs for private industry workers rose 4.4% for 2021, with wages and salaries up 5% for the same period.

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