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Calif. Health-Care Worker Shortage Dire

STOCKTON, Calif.-- Shortages in the state s widespread health-care work force are reaching critical numbers, a fact that could endanger every Californian s health in the near future, according to a study released Monday.

While all industries are projected to show major shortages of college-educated workers in California by 2020, the study sponsored by the Campaign for College Opportunity with funding from Kaiser Permanente and the California Wellness Foundation found that these shortages have already reached the health care sector.

Further, health care will soon be hit by the double whammy of California s aging population -- older residents will need substantially more care as they age while a generation of highly skilled baby boomers retires from health-care jobs.

In some hospital systems, occupations such as clinical laboratory scientists have an average age well over 50.

Most of our people have been here 25 years going on 30 years now. That information is correct, said Richard Wong, administrative director of the clinical laboratory at Dameron Hospital in Stockton, commenting on the study. I m quite concerned.

Wong and others in the health-care professions know the tidal wave of patients is only a few years away.

Shortages in the health-care work force will place the health of Californians in jeopardy. Today s chronic shortages are going to become worse as the population ages, said Marilyn Chow, vice president of patient-care services for Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, the state s largest private health-care employer.

California s older than-65 population is the state s fastest growing group, according to the study, and is expected to increase by 75 percent between 2000 and 2020. For the age group between 65 and 97, health expenditures increase fourfold.

The first study of its kind in nearly a decade found major shortages in allied health jobs, a sector which includes 60 percent of health-care jobs other than physicians, registered nurses and pharmacists. These technical occupations include such jobs as emergency medical technicians, radiology technologists and respiratory therapists.

While many factors influence the numbers of allied health professionals, the study cited the greatest limiting factor is the lack of capacity in California s colleges to train and educate enough people to meet demand.

Most allied health jobs have education requirements that include certificates and associate degrees, and some of these occupations require post-graduate degrees.

As Californians, all of our health care depends on getting more students into and through community college and university training programs, according to Abdi Soltani, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, a coalition of business, labor and education leaders that sponsored the study.

Soltani said there are two basic areas where policymakers and educators will need to place an unprecedented focus : increasing the number of spaces for students in health-care programs and improving student success once in college.

In addition, high school students often are not aware of college and career options early enough, especially for the less visible but relatively high-paying allied health jobs.

San Joaquin Delta Community College plays a major role in training many of the area s future health-care workers. It offers degree and certificate programs to train registered nurses, psychiatric technicians, licensed vocational nurses, emergency medical technicians, radiology technicians, certified nursing assistants, clinical medical assistants, phlebotomists and a new program for pharmacy technicians.

In the past week, it received its second $1.2 million, three-year grant from the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California for the registered nursing program, which enabled the college to enroll an additional 40 nursing students a year for the past three years, according to Hazel Hill, Delta s dean of workforce development.

Last spring, the college enrolled 90 nursing students for the first time, up from 60 just three years earlier.

We really need to look at growing our own health-care professionals in Stockton and what opportunities we have to give them, said Hill, who also chairs the workforce development committee of the Community Health Forum that brings together leaders within San Joaquin County s public and private health-care community.

This has allowed us to find out what the real needs are. We need to assist our educators. It s a little different mind-set than what has happened in the past, Hill said.

Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or jgoldeen@recordnet.com

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