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As in most industries, the economic downturn about four years ago clouded the crystal ball for healthcare workforce experts. No sooner had they foreseen huge demand for more and more-advanced nurses and healthcare professionals when the slump hit, prompting the expected wave of retirees to sit tight.

Cut to 2012. Regionally and nationally, higher education and healthcare partners are confronting a new challenge: How to infuse their workforce with new blood when the previously anticipated openings aren’t opening up as quickly as thought.

That’s just one hurdle regional higher education and healthcare leaders discussed as they came together June 22 to examine the findings of a critical new report outlining worker retirement and departure intentions in the Fox Valley.

The Fox Valley Health Care Alliance, an arm of the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board, released the report and brought together a panel to discuss the findings, which included University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and healthcare institution leaders from ThedaCare, Aurora Health Care and Agnesian Healthcare.

Both sides – educators and healthcare institutions – came to the table to discuss the problems, and possible solutions, as it related to the data, which shows very high numbers of the workforce retiring about a decade from now.

“Clearly, educators will be in the spotlight to help increase our workforce,” said Josh Bullock, vice president of strategic advancement at Moraine Park Technical College, who presented the results and facilitated the discussion.

However, the results also show slow retirements of healthcare professionals in the present day making it difficult for trained professionals, like nurses, to get jobs and educational placements currently.

“We have many more high-quality students than we can accommodate,” said College of Nursing Dean Rosemary Smith.

The study also addressed the “why,” and showed people’s biggest influence in making a decision to retire is whether they’ll have access to post-employment benefits and financial security, likely a sign of the economic times.

A similar study in 2008 showed retirement decisions used to be more based on reaching the appropriate age and eligibility.

The Fox Valley Healthcare Alliance, which has been in existence for about eight years already, intends to continue their work to bridge the needs of educators, the workforce and healthcare institutions. Already, the Alliance is looked to as a model of collaboration within the state.

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