Washington region expected to see surge of health-care jobs, study finds

The Washington region is likely to see a surge in health-care jobs through the remainder of the decade as an aging population puts a strain on the modern workforce, according to Georgetown University researchers.

The report, produced by the university’s Center for Education and the Workforce, predicts a 25 percent increase in health-care jobs across the country from 2010 to 2020.

Virginia is expected to add jobs at a faster clip. The commonwealth is projected to have 482,370 health-care and social-assistance industry jobs by 2020, a 36 percent increase over 2010 levels.

Maryland is on track to have 400,560 jobs in the industry by 2020, a 23 percent increase over the same 10 years. The District could have 63,620 jobs, which represents a 20 percent increase.

“The correlations we find are largely income-based,” said Anthony Carnevale, the center’s director. “The more middle-class and upper-middle-class people in an area, the more doctors you get. The more doctors you get, you tend to get a roughly equivalent share of support workers.”

The report cites the graying baby-boomer population as the biggest driver behind the anticipated rise in demand for health care. People older than 65 use a significant portion of medical services, and that increases further for those who live beyond 85, the report says.

What’s more, the rise in obesity-related illnesses, such as hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, is expected to contribute to rising health-care costs.

The Georgetown study concludes that D.C. waistlines are thinner on average than in other parts of the country. Still, the numbers are hardly encouraging. In the District, 56.2 percent of residents are overweight or obese. That compares with 61.2 percent of Virginians and 66.1 percent of Marylanders.

Local health-care providers say the projected increases match their own expectations as population changes contribute to greater demand for medical services, such as surgery and orthopedics.

Angela Mannino, senior vice president of human resources at Inova Health System, said the company employs 13,000 people across Northern Virginia. But 20 percent of its nurses are 50 or older and will need to be replaced as they retire.

New graduates are plentiful in this region, Mannino said, even if demand for nurses with a bachelor’s degree or higher has increased in recent years. Experience is more difficult to find.

“Where we’re struggling a little bit is finding experienced RNs,” she said. “When someone is retiring, it’s not always a new grad who is best to replace them. Sometimes you want someone with experience.”

Back to school?

Columbia-based MedStar Health also has a need for highly educated nurses, along with radiology technicians and lab workers, among other roles, said spokeswoman Jean Hitchcock. Many positions require more education than in the past, and the supply of qualified graduates hasn’t kept pace.

“It’s not just that you need a talented workforce, you need an extremely smart and constantly learning workforce,” Hitchcock said. “And we’re all competing for the same talent pool.”

That leads to shortages. The Georgetown study estimates that from 2010 to 2020, there will be 268,150 health-related job openings across Maryland, Virginia and the District.

“Already there are some shortages in some areas. Primary care gets a lot of attention, but there are other fields as well,” said Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “When more people are seeking health care, an existing network gets stretched.”

Another variable that several experts say is difficult to quantify will be the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its controversial individual mandate that was upheld by the Supreme Court last week.

Dorn said demand for health-care services will only increase as the law brings insurance coverage to millions more Americans. Those who have coverage have been shown to seek medical attention more regularly than those who don’t, he said.

“The reform law will increase demand for health services without question, and it will spend more money on health-care services, which will increase employment,” Dorn said.

But measures within the law, as well as industry practices, aim to reduce health-care costs through more effective treatment and preventive care.

“There are going to be a lot of greater efforts than previously to slow the growth of spending, but I don’t think anyone expects spending levels to fall,” said Henry Aaron, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “It’s just a question of how quickly they go up.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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