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Missouri hospitals see drop in turnover, job vacancies after pandemic spikes

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(The Center Square) – There were fewer job vacancies and lower turnover rates in 2023 at Missouri’s hospitals compared to the peak years of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from a statewide industry association.

Record-high vacancy and turnover rates experienced during the pandemic continued to ease last year, according to the “2024 Workforce Report” by the Missouri Hospital Association.

“Although this limited relief is good news for hospitals and the communities they serve, 2023 rates remain higher than pre-pandemic, historical rates,” the report said. “Real challenges remain – among today’s workforce and in building the workforce of the future.”

The report includes regional and statewide data from 128 hospitals. It includes vacancy and turnover rates for 33 positions found in hospitals and clinics.

There’s a pool of approximately 44,500 registered nurses in Missouri, the largest single category of hospital employees. The report found a 15.6% vacancy rate for registered nurses last year and a 16.3% turnover rate. During the peak of the pandemic in 2021, the vacancy rate for registered nurses was 19.8% and the turnover rate was 22.1%.

Registered nurse turnover was highest in a 12-county region in south-central Missouri last year at 36.2%. Vacancy rates for registered nurses were highest in the southeast (21.4%) and northeast (17.3%) regions.

“Troubling rates of vacancy and turnover persist in a variety of roles essential to care delivery – including the R.N.s and the staff that support bedside care,” Jon Doolittle, president and chief executive officer of the Missouri Hospital Association, said in a statement announcing the report. “At the same time, positions that are essential to hospital operations, including food service workers and environmental services, have turnover rates that exceed 50% statewide. To compete in the job market, hospitals continue to innovate and evolve to be employers of choice.”

The vacancy rate for all hospital occupations in the survey was 13.7% last year and the turnover rate was 22.2%. In the St. Louis region, hospitals reported a turnover rate of approximately 75% in environmental services and food service workers/dietary aids. However, vacancy rates in the categories are low, indicating the positions are quickly filled after workers leave.

“Many hospitals indicate finding qualified entry-level staff is difficult due to competitive pay from different industries or larger companies, low unemployment, shallower job pools making qualified candidates harder to find and a lack of training programs in rural areas,” according to the report. “These careers are critical to patient care, and turnover in these positions presents an operational challenge for hospital leaders.”

The report concludes all Missourians benefit when hospitals excel in managing operations, treating patients and serving communities. However, it stated continuing to enhance workforce development is critical to save lives and maintain health.

“Continued investments that attract and retain workers to health professions, and that create opportunities for rewarding careers in service to the health of their communities, will be necessary to stabilize today’s workforce and build the workforce of the future,” the report said. “This will require coordinated efforts among education, policy, and health care stakeholders to ensure a robust, resilient, and well-supported hospital and health care workforce for all Missourians – now, and in the future.”

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