Ninety-five percent of Veterans Health Administration facilities have at least one severe occupational staffing shortage, with 17 occupations being identified as a severe occupational staffing shortage by at least one in five facilities, the most recent IG audit of staffing at the VA’s health branch has found.
Of the 139 facilities in the most recent polling by the IG 85, 121 had severe shortages for positions generically classified by the VA as medical officers and 100 had severe shortages for nurses. “Although there is a hiring flexibility for such occupations and the overall number of severe shortages has declined, VHA continues to experience severe occupational staffing shortages for these positions that are fundamental to the delivery of health care,” a report said.
Psychiatry was the most cited clinical occupational shortage, with custodial workers the most cited nonclinical occupation.
Across the 139 facilities, directors reported a total of 2,430 severe occupational staffing shortages, with one facility citing 85. That was a decrease from 3,068 in 2018 and 2,685 in 2019, it said, and seven facilities did not report any severe shortages.
“While there has been a decrease in the number of severe occupational staffing shortages as well as an increase in the number of facilities reporting zero shortages since FY 2018, there may not have been a corresponding drop in facility staffing need. For example, the OIG identified that facilities have vacancies in occupations not identified as shortages,” the report said.
The report noted that HR management, which had been the most frequently cited as severely short-staffed among non-clinical occupations in the prior two reviews, had fallen to sixth. “Adequate staffing in the human resources management occupation promotes VHA’s ability to fill other severe occupational staffing shortages,” it said.
Short staffing has been an issue at the VA for many years, with numbers of vacancies in the neighborhood of 50,000. The department has said that through reforms to its hiring process earlier this year it has been able to more quickly add employees in response to the pandemic. The IG distributed the survey in February just before the pandemic hit and the facilities responded through mid-June.
It said that over a period of years, seven occupations have remained in the top 10 most frequently reported severe shortages annually—police, psychiatry, primary care, practical nurse, general engineering, psychology, and medical technologist.
Further, the reports of severe shortages of custodial workers has increased in the last two years, and the IG said it “has concerns regarding the increased frequency of facility-designated severe occupational shortage for custodial worker and its effects on VHA’s ability to provide care safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.”