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AHA Report: Strategic Workforce Planning and Development

  • Article by:Health Career Center

Dramatic changes are occurring across healthcare. In response, the AHA engaged hospital leaders and experts to form the 2016 Committee on Performance Improvement to identify key workforce challenges and how to solve for them.

As of a result of this committee’s findings, the AHA published The Imperative for Strategic Workforce Planning and Development: Challenges and Opportunities. “There is a critical need to elevate the discussion around workforce planning and development to ensure that it becomes a standing component of comprehensive strategic planning for hospitals/systems and not just a response to a crisis situation” the report states.

Several workforce challenges were explored including:  recruitment of professionals in rural communities, the inadequate supply of behavioral health professionals, the need for a diverse workforce, the importance of leadership and succession planning and much more. We’ve explored a few below, but encourage you to download the report here.


Recruitment in Rural Communities

Approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population live in a rural area, and patients in these areas are more likely to have multiple chronic illnesses and higher mortality rate. With added challenges of limited staff, remote locations and constrained financial resources, rural hospitals need a strong workforce to help manage these challenges. However, many rural hospitals are reporting difficulties in attracting healthcare professionals to their communities.

To overcome this shortage and manage the shifting in care settings, hospital leaders can do the following:

Consider new roles to align work and skillsets to current and future community needs

  • Partner with health professions schools and other community organizations to recruit local candidates
  • Engage in leadership development to enhance recruitment and become an employer of choice
  • Invest in staff training and education
  • Combat heavy staff workloads
  • Explore telehealth options for care


Behavioral Health Professionals Shortage

Hospitals across the country are facing an inadequate supply of behavioral health professionals and services. To better serve the mental health needs of patients, the integration of behavioral health and physical health is essential. Strategic workforce planning considerations for behavioral health include:

  • Implementation of new telehealth strategies like tele-psych program and virtual health teams
  • Development of new job positions such as social workers, case managers, coaches, and other behavioral health specialists
  • Creation of continuum of behavioral health care services using a team-based approach including psychologists, therapists, primary care physicians and more.
  • Consideration of nontraditional and nonmedical peer support staff to bring in a public health perspective

Discover more about the challenges facing the field regarding the behavioral health workforce by downloading the AHA Workforce Center’s recent publication, The State of the Behavioral Health Care Workforce: A Literature Review.


Workforce Diversity

Diversity in the workforce is integral in supporting today’s healthcare needs. The healthcare workforce must reflect the diversity of the patients that they care for. In order to achieve a diverse workforce, commitment is needed from executive and leadership teams and governance to incorporate into strategic planning. In order to create this diversity, veterans, multi-generations, religions, disabilities, and sexual orientation need to be considered. It is essential for the workforce to learn to care for patients with different values and perspectives about health and wellness and be aware of diversity issues within their community.


Leadership and Succession Planning

Healthcare leaders must pave the way for change and invest in the current workforce to train them on new models of care. It is key for leadership to identify up-and-coming leaders and promote growth through mentorship and career advancement. Other ways that healthcare leaders can incorporate leadership and succession planning into strategic planning include:

  • Creation of a strong and committed culture on providing excellent care in a transformed healthcare environment
  • Evaluation of workforce plan and ability to adjust for changes in healthcare landscape and needs of the community
  • Involve of trustee in developing leadership continuity, engaging in cascade planning and participating in ongoing education
  • Organizational assessment to understand workforce needs in relation to strategic direction and the needs of the hospital and patients
  • Support and encouragement of innovation and exploration of apprenticeship programs or internal leadership academies

A robust and engaged workforce is critical to the success of our nation’s healthcare system. A strong workforce not only delivers high-quality care but enhances the overall health and wellness of all communities in this country. And as healthcare continues to change, it is vital that workforce planning is incorporated into the strategic plan of the health systems at all levels.

Download the full report here to explore additional challenges and strategic assessment tools from The Imperative for Strategic Workforce Planning and Development: Challenges and Opportunities report.