With whopping $100M investment, UnitedHealth Group seeks to tackle workforce crisis and lack of diversity
Providers have sounded the alarm on healthcare’s workforce shortage in recent years, warning that the issue will have serious consequences for patient care and Americans’ collective health. The shortage has also recently gained the attention of national leaders — just two weeks ago, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory calling on the country to address health worker burnout, a key reason behind Americans’ decisions to abandon healthcare roles. Now, one of the country’s largest healthcare organizations has committed $100 million to addressing the crisis.
UnitedHealth Group will invest $100 million over 10 years in building the healthcare workforce, Patricia Lewis, the company’s chief sustainability officer, announced Wednesday at the Social Innovation Summit.
The U.S. could see a deficit of 200,000 to 450,000 registered nurses available to provide direct patient care by 2025, according to a McKinsey report released last month. Mercer research shows that the country also faces an estimated shortage of more than 3.2 million lower-wage healthcare workers, such as nursing assistants and home health aides, within the next five years.
UnitedHealth Group’s investment, made through United Health Foundation, seeks not only to address not only this shortage of employees, but also the healthcare workforce’s striking lack of diversity. Only 22% of Black patients and 23% of Hispanic patients have a provider of the same race, according to research from the Urban Institute.
The $100 million investment will sponsor 10,000 clinicians from underrepresented racial groups who are pursuing or advancing careers in healthcare. It is the single largest philanthropic commitment ever made by the United Health Foundation.
The foundation will provide funding to about 5,000 underrepresented students who are pursuing careers in primary care, Lewis said. Over four years, students will be able to get up to $20,000 for their education.
The rest of the funds will go to about 5,000 current healthcare professionals from underrepresented racial groups who want to advance their careers. The foundation will provide funding for physicians, nurses, medical assistants, mental health professionals and midwives who are seeking additional degrees, accreditation or certifications.
“When we think about diversity in the healthcare pipeline, we think about cultural competence,” Lewis said. “And that occurs when physicians are from similar backgrounds as their patients. We see data and evidence that suggests they have a better opportunity to build very strong relationships this way because they can relate to their patients’ experiences, and we see that there are better outcomes when that happens.”
Lewis noted that while $100 million may seem like a rather big number, it will not solve all of healthcare’s workforce problems, neither shortage-wise nor diversity-wise. She said her company made the investment to do its part in continuing to advance the healthcare worker pipeline so that 10 years down the road, the industry has more professionals and they look more like the patients they serve.
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