The start of a new year is always a hopeful, aspirational time. For the healthcare sector, solving the labor shortage is at the top of the resolutions list. Since February of 2020, employment in healthcare is down 450,000 jobs, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Besides the obvious issues posed by medical understaffing during a surging pandemic, the shortage puts increased financial pressure on already struggling health systems.

This workforce dip permeates every aspect of healthcare, from large hospital networks to nursing homes to independent practices, and the spaces they occupy.

What’s Driving the Shortage?

While the healthcare labor pool regularly experiences cycles of an under or over saturated job market, this shortage is unique due to the driving factors of the pandemic and its sheer volume.

Overflowing ICUs, lack of personal protective equipment and frontline exposure to the virus for nearly two years has left many healthcare professionals feeling burnt out.

This burnout has contributed to what some consider a mass exodus from the industry as many take early retirement or seek opportunities in different fields. A poll from the Morning Consult showed 19% of healthcare workers considered leaving their job or changing careers during the pandemic.

The Wall Street Journal reports that up to 30% of hospital workers were unvaccinated at the end of November. For networks requiring employees to receive the Covid-19 inoculation, this has also contributed to understaffing as employees who make a personal choice to not get vaccinated are laid off or fired. 

How it’s Affecting Real Estate

The labor shortage affects nearly all areas of healthcare, from budgets to real estate. As healthcare organizations struggle to retain workers, more and more medical office building tenants, specifically clinics and private practices, are struggling to meet patient demand.

In certain cases, medical tenants are enacting their lease right to “go dark,” meaning shutting down the business until staffing levels can return to service the patient through-put. While hospitals nationwide are expanding their sites to accommodate more beds, smaller independent practices and offices will likely take a more cautious approach to expansion given the lack of manpower and severe workforce shifts. 

What it Means for 2022

In the coming months, it’s expected that healthcare organizations will deploy extreme tactics for attracting and retaining employees. Many also will strategize how to stabilize the pipeline of incoming nurses and doctors in efforts to restore the workforce. In the skilled nursing industry, fast food workers are paid more than employees of SNF facilities.

The shortage is so extreme in some regions that crisis mode has been activated, and medical workers from the U.S. Army have been brought in to help care for overflowing beds. These kinds of last-ditch effort tactics will likely become more common until the Omicron surge reverses course.

The CDC’s new guidance for healthcare workers, which was announced late December, is another effort to prevent short staffing in hospitals.

There remains ongoing unpredictability surrounding the pandemic, so knowing what the next year will bring is nearly impossible to forecast. One thing that’s certain, however, is that if the labor shortage continues at its current pace, the healthcare industry and the healthcare real estate sector will continue to face yet another challenge to further navigate the fluid dynamics of the pandemic.