Fitch: Nonprofit hospitals face prolonged labor challenges despite recent respite

Nonprofit hospitals are bracing for a challenging few months as healthcare and social assistance job vacancies remain high against a backdrop of low unemployment, Fitch Ratings said in an Oct. 25 update.

Healthcare and social assistance job openings fell for two consecutive months to 7.7 percent as of August, but the number of openings remains above the highest level recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic.

One encouraging sign is the slowly declining number of quits — 2.3 percent (486,000 quits) in August 2022 compared with a peak of 3.1 percent (626,000 quits) in November 2021. However, current quit rates remain high and are on track to exceed last year, according to Fitch.

"[not-for-profit] hospital quits will need to normalize to well below pre-pandemic levels in order to reduce staffing shortages and a reliance on contract/temporary labor," Fitch Director Richard Park said in the news release.

The labor shortage saw hospital employees' average weekly earnings increase 21.1 percent since February, significantly higher than the 13.6 percent earnings growth of overall private sector employees, according to Fitch. But ambulatory healthcare services employees' earnings increased by only 12.6 percent over the same period.

"Wage increases and employee recruitment challenges may amplify the role of ambulatory care in the overall healthcare sector and continue the acceleration of inpatient care to outpatient settings," Mr. Park said.

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