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Health care needs will increase as aging population grows

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Within the next ten years, health care needs will grow dramatically.

The so-called silver tsunami, or the aging baby boomer population, is expected to put more strains on the health care industry.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the nation's population of people over 75 will increase by 75 percent between 2017 and 2032. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has predicted that by 2040, there could be more than 1.5 million Wisconsin residents over the age of 65.

In 2010, there were 780,000. That would be an increase of 100 percent.

"That's just staggering," said the Wisconsin Hospital Association's vice president Ann Zenk.

The WHA is also tracking the impact baby boomers will have on health care in its latest health care workforce report.

Zenk said that the rapidly aging population isn't exactly good news for the health care industry, which is already strained.

"We're seeing patients having to spend unnecessary days in the hospital, waiting for a place to be discharged to," she said. "Some of those gaps are due to the shortage of nursing assistants and other entry level workers."

Health care needs will grow by 30 percent in the next ten years, Zenk said, which will increase the need for even more nurses, doctors, physician assistants, and other specialized providers.

It's not a lost cause. Plenty of people in the state are catching on to the fact that it's about growing the workforce efficiently as well as quickly.

Madison College has a new, year-long program for licensed practical nurses, or LPNs.

Dr. Ernise Watson, the associate dean of the nursing program, told 27 News that job is becoming more vital as patient care gets more intense.

"The patients may not be able to receive the level of care that they need to get out of the hospital on time," she said.

Watson encourages her students to diversify their options so they can fill in where there are gaps in health care. LPNs can fill in where needs are crucial, like in patients' homes. With more nurses available for home visits, it can free up hospital beds.

Advanced practice clinicians can also step in to provide care when there are physician shortages.

But despite the gaps, the WHA's report said that healthcare workforce is, in fact, growing.

The Wisconsin Center for Nursing reported that in 2016, 3,000 people graduated from nursing schools. In each year since, they've been able to graduate 3,500.

"That's huge," said Zenk. "But we're going to need even more."

Since 2009, hospitals in Wisconsin have been able to double the number of advanced practice clinicians working. That includes nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

"The APC workforce is expected to double again in the next decade," she said.

Zenk said they work at the state and federal levels to make sure lawmakers are passing laws that don't make things harder for the workforce to efficiently grow.

Growing, but not fast enough.

"I think we have to be creative," said Watson. "We have to be creative because we do need to grow, grow, grow, so it would be the process by which the grow, grow, grow is implemented."

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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