Published on July 13, 2022

DEED visit to St. Mary’s Medical Center addresses workforce challenges in health care

As the labor shortage continues to challenge hospitals across the country, Essentia Health on Tuesday had a chance to amplify its recruiting message while calling attention to employment barriers.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s “Summer of Jobs” campaign came to St. Mary’s Medical Center. Featuring DEED Commissioner Steve Grove, Tuesday’s visit focused on addressing the critical need for health care workers, from nurses to respiratory therapists to lesser-known roles. It started with lunch and a roundtable discussion attended by representatives from the state, Essentia and the City of Duluth, before Grove went on a job-shadow in Sterile Processing — one of many high-demand positions in health care.

Minnesota currently has more than 200,000 job vacancies, 52,000 of which are in health care, according to DEED.

“We face one of the tightest labor markets in the country and, really, the largest number of job vacancies Minnesota has ever seen,” Commissioner Grove told Duluth-based WDIO-TV during an interview Tuesday at St. Mary’s.

Essentia, with about 1,750 openings systemwide, can relate. The shortage is especially pronounced for rural health systems, where human resources are limited. So the goal is to find the right candidates, invest in them and train them to be experts in their respective fields and indispensable members of our care teams and support staff.

Right now, many of those openings do not require a college degree. Sterile processing technicians, phlebotomists and certified nursing assistants are some of the highest-need jobs at Essentia. For anyone who wants to be involved in health care, there is a pathway to start contributing immediately. And these are good-paying jobs, with plentiful career-advancement opportunities.

The importance of these roles can’t be overstated. As Essentia CEO David C. Herman, MD, noted Tuesday, without sterile processing technicians, without environmental services technicians, without nursing assistants, hospitals can’t function.

“There’s a general lack of awareness of all the careers out there in health care,” Michelle Ufford, director of workforce strategy at Essentia, told WDIO. “An unfortunate myth persists here in Northeastern Minnesota that there are no good jobs worth staying for. A lot of high school graduates feel that once they graduate from high school, the best place to head to is the metro to find their career. Nothing could be further from the truth, highlighting the need to create awareness among current and future job seekers, teachers, counselors, parents and other influencers.”

Essentia’s commitment to pursuing innovative solutions to workforce challenges is evidenced by our recently announced partnership with the Rock Ridge School District on the Iron Range, a $400,000 contribution from Essentia to provide postsecondary education sponsorships for roles like radiology technicians, ultrasound technicians, respiratory therapists and more. The partnership also commits Essentia to help with the development of the Health Science and Human Services academy as the new career academy high school evolves. This relationship will allow us to keep good-paying jobs in a community we’re privileged to serve while tackling a crucial shortage and providing students with a direct route to one of the region’s largest employers.

Essentia also has formed several partnerships with universities across the Upper Midwest aimed at cultivating relationships with future nurses. These schools include North Dakota State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Mary, Minnesota State University-Moorhead, the College of St. Scholastica, Lake Superior College, Northwood Technical College and La Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College.