Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the most precious resources in the healthcare industry is a qualified labor force. Even small hospitals typically have dozens of nurses, while larger metropolitan hospitals may have hundreds. Each nurse must undergo years of specialized training and pass several clinical exams on the way to becoming an RN (registered nurse). Physicians study for an even longer period, with several years of additional training and clinical study necessary in order to become a specialist. Specialized labor presents a real, physical hurdle to entry in the healthcare industry and consequently many hospitals are facing labor shortages in a variety of fields.
Significant healthcare labor shortages have contributed to what are called medically-underserved areas (MUAs) across the United States. When an area meets key statistics in age demographics (generally in terms of the elderly forming a disproportionate part of the population), poverty-level income, and a lack of medical professionals, the locality is said to be a medically-underserved area. Specialized labor shortages in the local MUA setting can make life extraordinarily difficult for patients, who often must travel great distances for even relatively simple services.
Medically-underserved areas themselves compound the labor shortage problem even further by providing a disincentive for young medical professionals to come to the area. New hires are likely to be overworked, with lower total compensation than similar positions in more populated areas. Thus, a downward spiral is born: a lack of access to medical services makes it much more difficult for local administrators to get more medical professionals into the area. Some municipalities (along with local hospitals and medical education programs) have partnered to offer substantial bonuses to medical professionals willing to move to the area and commit a certain number of years to serving in area hospitals.
Beyond specialized labor, the healthcare industry also requires massive investments of natural resources, from the metals used in sterile surgical equipment to the petroleum-based plastics that compose much of modern hospital equipment. Municipal ambulance fleets require prodigious amounts of fuel. Consequently, many municipalities are looking into green-energy alternatives at every stage of hospital operation, from construction to emergency vehicle management to staff procedural. New hospitals are utilizing energy-saving methods during construction: low-energy lighting, solar paneling, and even specialized exterior paint to maximize thermal mass and minimize both utility costs and impact on the local environment. Several municipalities are also exploring ways in which hospital equipment may find alternative uses once the equipment in question reaches the end of its service.
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