Frontline Healthcare Workers are Key to Making ACA Work

Published mar. 12, 2014

By Jan Hunter, Director, CareerSTAT, and Dr. Randall Wilson, Senior Project Manager

Originally posted on the Huffington Post Blog on March 12, 2014

Healthcare consumers aren't the only ones impacted by the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). This game-changing legislation carries far-reaching impacts for thousands of frontline healthcare workers across the U.S. You see frontline healthcare workers in hospital lobbies and corridors—medical assistants, patient intake coordinators, dietary staff—each of whom plays a critical role in delivering care, but who earn an entry-level wage and often do not have an Associate's degree.

The ACA has several goals, extending care to the uninsured and achieving a "triple aim" of lower costs, improved care and better health outcomes. And while there have been several delays in enforcing some of the law's provisions—and some groups are still interested in repealing it—there is no denying that the ACA train has arrived. With its strong focus on wellness and prevention, healthcare employers must be able to help their frontline workforce attain all the necessary training and credentialing to perform in different settings.

New research by the National Fund for Workforce Solutions and its implementation partner, Jobs for the Future—Implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: Impacts on the Frontlines of Caregiving—shows that the ACA will accelerate the need for continued and sustained investment in the skills and career development of frontline workers by healthcare employers. Among the findings:

  • More attention needs to be paid to how frontline workers can support new ways of delivering care. We're moving to greater emphasis on primary care over hospital-based care, on keeping people well over taking care of the sick. We are holding providers to higher performance standards for patient satisfaction and preventable readmissions to the hospital. As one healthcare executive put it, "All the jobs have gotten harder." This begs the question: Is your hospital and healthcare system ready for the full impact of the ACA on your frontline workforce?
  • Workforce development in healthcare remains a critical need despite the recent economic downturn, which has contributed to reduced turnovers, delayed retirements and a lessening need to fill vacancies. Expanded coverage for the uninsured and expected increases in the quantity and quality of healthcare services will require investment in frontline workers. Too many of our nation's healthcare organizations have focused resources on developing workers with a college degree or higher—and less on frontline workers.
  • The ACA places a premium on higher-quality healthcare at a lower cost. Healthcare staff, including frontline workers, will need to have essential skills—from teamwork, effective communications, problem solving, critical thinking to technological know-how. Frontline workers need to apply these skills as they take on new tasks—from taking vital signs and entering electronic medical records to helping patients keep their appointments and take their medications.
  • Skill needs will shift based on the patient-care setting. The ACA is accelerating the need for new or enhanced frontline roles in order to implement new, patient-centered models of delivering care. Frontline workers need skills in coaching patients to manage their health conditions, coordinating patient care and helping patients navigate the complexities of our healthcare system.

With full implementation of ACA, our nation's healthcare system is positioned to adopt new models of care to provide better quality care at a lower cost. As our nation ages, demand for healthcare services will only grow, making it critical for us to tap into often underutilized segments of our workforce—youth, young adults, immigrants and less-skilled candidates—to meet the demand. There's a lot at stake as ACA implementation happens. Are we ready to meet this new workforce challenge?

Jan Hunter is the director of CareerSTAT, a national collaboration of hospital and healthcare leaders promoting investment in the skill and career development of frontline workers.

Dr. Randall Wilson is senior project manager at Jobs for the Future, which works with its partners to design and drive the adoption of education and career pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for those struggling to succeed in today's economy.

Find out more information about CareerSTAT.