STOCKTON — A group of leaders from the public, health care and education sectors gathered to discuss ways to address the shortage of health care professionals in the county during a strategy session on Monday morning at the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

The group, which also included representatives from community-based organizations and other key stakeholders, discussed how to further develop a health sector partnership with the shared goal of increasing the health industry workforce in San Joaquin County.

The purpose of the partnership would be to help create solutions for employers in the health care industry and the people who want to work in the industry.

During the session, stakeholders identified key opportunities and challenges in relation to creating such a partnership, viewed data and statistics on the county’s health care workforce and discussed the next steps in developing the partnership.

According to Daniel Wolcott, President and CEO of Lodi Memorial Adventist Health and co-chair of the initiative, many health care employers have open positions that are difficult to fill because they don’t have enough trained individuals in the community to fill those jobs.

He said the hope is to create a better and broader pathway from no education to a health care degree, which would allow employers to fill these positions.

“This pathway that we are creating by linking the education, the industry and the other supportive entities in community creates a pathway to collaborate and enhance the filling of those open jobs, and, bigger than that, creating robust education opportunities for kids in our community, which leads to good jobs, which leads to long-term well being,” Wolcott said.

Currently Lodi Memorial is facing a shortage of registered nurses and clinical lab scientists, among other positions across the hospital, Wolcott said

“We’ve had a mismatch in education pathways and in growth of those jobs,” Wolcott said. “If you think about the lab, there was a significant change in the number of people that were needed as technology changed, and so several years ago there was a concern that there wouldn’t be any jobs in the labs anymore, that we’d automate everything.

“Then, that meant that less people wanted to go into that field because they thought there wouldn’t be jobs. Now as the baby boomers start retiring, we haven’t turned an adequate number of people to come and fill the number of jobs that are in the laboratory,” he said.

Kathy Hart, President of San Joaquin Delta College and another co-chair for the initiative, said that Delta has a shortage of faculty members for its health care programs. She said that the school needs to improve its relationship with the health care industry in every way and the only way to do that is to find out what the industry needs.

“We are getting together the people who are employers and the people who are training the employees,” she said.

According to Hart, Delta has a variety of programs available for those looking to get into the health care industry, including a registered nursing program, a certified nursing assistant program, a radiographic technician program and a psychiatric technician program.

San Joaquin County Supervisor Chuck Winn, who is also a member of the executive board for San Joaquin County General Hospital, said that turnover is a huge issue for the county hospital.

“The county hospital is a public hospital, it’s not at times able to compete with the private hospitals because we don’t have the budgets that they have and because a large percentage of our population are Medi-Cal or Medicare recipients,” Winn said of the employee shortage. “It doesn’t necessarily provide us with that particular ability to pay the wages and benefits that other hospitals may receive.”

Corey Wright. an administrator with Vienna Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, said that it’s a struggle to maintain registered nurses at Vienna

“You’ll recruit somebody. It’s usually a younger person. They’ll get a year or two of training and then they’ll move on to something else where they can make a higher wage,” Wright said.

Through developing the partnership, Wright said he hopes that health sector stakeholders can work collaboratively to increase the availability of registered nurses.

According to data reviewed during the strategy session, the largest number of openings annually in the county are for registered nurses (328), nursing assistants (353) and medical assistants (216.)

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