Gundersen CEO welcomes Walker budget plans to train workforce

Gundersen CEO welcomes Walker budget plans to train workforce

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Gundersen Health System CEO Scott Rathgaber finds comfort in the fact that Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget addresses workforce shortages that bedevil health care and other industries, but he makes it clear that he doesn’t want to hog the pot.

“I’m particularly grateful that Gov. Walker is addressing workforce issues,” Rathgaber said Tuesday after Walker toured Gundersen’s La Crosse hospital and talked about his budget proposals at a press conference.

Walker’s budget includes not only provisions to expand education specifically for certified nurse assistants, nurses and doctors but also for seemingly unrelated fields hospitals rely on, such as IT and accounting, said Rathgaber, who is a medical doctor.

“They are all part of the puzzle to meet the tsunami” of people who will need care, as baby boomers retire, as well as to fill vacancies those retirements leave, he said.

“Other parts of the infrastructure for strong towns, roads and schools” are necessary to shore up health care in rural areas, Rathgaber said. “We want to share so they (health workers) will stay there.”

Walker, who unveiled his $76 billion 2017-19 biennial budget proposal in February, said, “To address the current shortage of professionals with the skills and training necessary to provide much-needed care and services to our state’s most vulnerable, our budget proposal invests in developing our health care workforce.”

Provisions in Walker’s budget proposal include:

$200,000 for the Wisconsin Rural Physician Residency Assistance Program, increasing funding for the program to $850,000. The program, created under Act 190 in 2009, provides financial support to rural hospitals, residency programs and health systems to help develop rural rotations and rural training tracks and expand access to physicians and other medical workers in rural areas of the Badger State.

A $1.5 million increase for youth nursing training. The funding grants to community-based organizations for public-private partnerships to create and implement a nursing training program for middle and high school students.

Rate increases for personal care, including a 2 percent hike of $5 million for the direct-care workforce in fiscal 2017-18 and a 2 percent bump of $10 million in fiscal 2018-19 to increase program participant acuity.

Direct-care workers help people get out of bed, use the restroom, dress, prepare meals, travel to and from work or school and other everyday activities.

Wisconsin is experiencing a crisis-level shortage of direct-care workers, leaving families without options and people with disabilities and older adults without the assistance they need, Walker said. The shortage puts them in danger of serious illness, harm and/or loss of independence.

Beleaguered provider agencies report turnover rates as high as 65 percent because they cannot increase worker wages, according to the state.

Nursing home rate increase of 2 percent, amounting to $18.4 million, in fiscal year 2017-18, as well as a 2 percent hike of $33.1 million in fiscal 2018-19 to support the state’s direct-care workforce for nursing homes and support resident acuity in nursing homes and intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The budget also would enhance behavioral and cognitive impairment incentives.

Asked about his proposal to switch health coverage for state employees to self-insurance, Walker said he doubted that it would undercut health plans such as Gundersen’s Quartz affiliation and Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare’s Health Tradition.

Half of all states have full self-insurance and others, partial, he said, without affecting private plans.

Asked his view of the potential fate of the Affordable Care Act in light of Republican Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s recent withdrawal of his plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, Walker said he expects the push to resume in earnest again by fall.

In the meantime, he expects tax reform to take priority.

Walker also expressed hope that Congress will restore funding that President Donald Trump’s budget proposes to cut from the federal Community Development Block Grant program.

The CDBG program has boosted housing and economic development efforts in La Crosse and throughout the state, he said. It also fosters partnerships among federal, state and local governmental units, he said.

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