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U.S. Unprepared for Impact of Aging Population on Health Workforce According to UAlbany Center for Health Workforce Studies
Shortages of RNs, geriatric specialists pose significant strains on health services for Elderly

Contact: Catherine Herman (518) 437-4980

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 5, 2006) -- The United States is unprepared to meet the health care challenges posed by its aging population, according to a new study by the Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWS) at the University at Albany's School of Public Health. The report, The Impact of the Aging Population on the Health Workforce in the United States, examines the implications of population aging for the health workforce, both in the context of caring for older adults (65+) and on health care professions and occupations.

"The older adult population will be larger, more ethnically diverse, and have a higher education level than previous generations," said Jean M. Moore, director of CHWS. "As demand for health services grows, large numbers of health care workers will be retiring at the same time, making shortages likely. We had a six percent nursing shortage in 2005 and that will grow to a 29 percent shortage by 2020. We also lack enough people trained as geriatric specialists to meet the needs of this growing cohort of older Americans."

The report also found that while the number of new physicians currently entering practice each year should be adequate to meet aggregate demand for services, this supply may not be sufficient to meet the needs of older adults. This population is far more likely to live in rural areas, where physicians are often in short supply and access to transportation is limited.

Other findings of the study include:

  • Older adults are more likely to suffer chronic illnesses (cancer, heart disease diabetes) and need more and different health services than younger adults. Yet, most health professionals receive limited training on care to older adults and, in the future, will need better training in geriatric issues, such as chronic disease management.

  • Older adults consume more ambulatory care, hospital services, nursing home services and home health services than younger people. The new demands placed on the health care system for health services will not only include a need for more workers, but also require changes in the way services are provided.

  • While older adults are expected to become increasingly diverse, many health professions are not, and this lack of diversity could contribute to disparities in health outcomes.

  • Many health professions, particularly those with long educational trajectories such as medicine and psychology, are older than average and are at greater risk for depletion as the population ages.

  • Future demand for health workers to serve older adults will be affected by emerging technologies: Automated pill packaging in pharmacies; video-links that allow urban medical specialists to "see" a rural patient and consult with a primary care physician; sensors that monitor an Alzheimer's patient's location.

Copies of the full report may be downloaded from the Center's web site.

The Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University at Albany's School of Public Health conducts studies of the supply, demand, use and education of the health workforce, and collects and analyzes data to understand workforce dynamics and trends. It is one of six regional centers devoted to health workforce studies with a cooperative agreement with U.S. Department of Health's Health Resources and Services Administration/Bureau of Health Professions. For more information, visit the Center for Health Workforce Studies.

Through its partnership with the New York State Dept. of Health, UAlbany's School of Public Health offers students immediate access to internships at the Health Department, Albany Medical College and variety of other public and private health institutions throughout New York State. Students have unique access to study the most profound health issues facing us today: the threat of bioterrorism; the spread of HIV/AIDS and other emerging diseases; the lack of affordable and accessible healthcare for individuals and families; environmental hazards; substance abuse and social violence; maternal mortality in developing countries; the promises and threats of genetic engineering; protecting food and water supplies. For more information, visit the School of Public Health.


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