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Tough recovery from laboratory worker shortage

Trained and licensed laboratory professionals use computers and sophisticated technology for healthcare lab tests.
Trained and licensed laboratory professionals use computers and sophisticated technology for healthcare lab tests.
Adam Benjamin

They call the shortage of laboratory workers in CAlifornia a "threat" to healthcare "long unnoticed by the public." Members of the advisory group for the Healthcare Laboratory Workforce Initiative, at work on healthcare in a state that has not moved ahead on its more than a decade old plan for training young students to take laboratory positions, have found no guarantee the state will close the gap between the low number of trained laboratory professionals and the growing need for the laboratory work at local hospitals, both large urban medical center hospitals and small rural hospitals.

California ranks low among the 50 states in the nation in laboratory workers per 100,000 people int he population. Staff additions at hospitals are in widespread dand. Most hospitals plan to hire a Clinical Laboratory Scientist, or, a Medical Laboratory Technician. Few can find them.

Hospital Association of San DIego and Imperial COunties, a non-profit located on RUffin Road in Kearny Mesa, not letting up on work building up the southern California healthcare workforce to improve the health of the communities, works with the community colleges and state universities in the HLWI advisory group to gurantee future young students have more opportunities to take up a laboratory career.

"The critical shortage of medical laboratory professionals" is "permanent" and "severe," HLWI says. Training programs opportunities need to go up in California. Hospitals look to hire a large number of the professionals. But, the college and on-site hospital training programs send out not much more than one hundred Clinical Laboratory Scientists into the workforce each year. Medical Laboratory Technicians are more scarce. MOre than ten years after the state legislature set up the licensed profession, there are only two accredited license programs in California. The state began licensing MLTs only two years ago, in 2012.

Nurses hiring is not the only lagging employment success that needs an agreement on a plan to reach the final staffing goal. Far fewer workers enter the healthcare laboratory workforce than retire from it. Growing biotech and laboratory manufacturing industries take laboratory workers out of the community health labor markets.

The impact on healthcare? A laboratory workforce short on personnel. Patients wait longer for test results, HLSA reports. Delays before patients get into the operating room for surgery make hospital visit minutes tick off the clock. The emergency department takes in patients for care at a slowed fast speed.

Hospitals have even downsized, or closed down, laboratories.

Getting the go on care stays slow while hospitals need a larger number of trained professionals in the laboratories testing blood type and cholesterol level. DIagnostic testing, though used in a widening range of diagnoses, does not go ahead as normal.

The Hospital Association "continues to heighten awareness of workforce shortages in the region, expecially to meet healthcare reform requiements." CLS and MLT training programs set up at community colleges and state universities could accomplish one health reform goal in California. Increase the number of trained laboratory professionals. Work teaching state legislators training programs need state funds keeps HLWI busy.

Opportunities to train students that help overcome what HLWI calls "one of the most pressing workforce issues" hospitals experience today take money. The HLWI training grants program for CLI and MLT programs simply helps prevent the workforce from falling behind the expanding laboratory work market. Innovative and creative projects run using the funds either increase the number of CLTS or MLTs, or, keep training programs up and running.

New laboratory recruits still need plenty of training opportunities.

THe line continues next week. . . .

This is the latest local civic story for Citizen Agenda Action Line on Tuesday. To read earlier articles, read
Seniors count on doing their share at OASIS
SDBN builds professional biotech networks
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