The continued workforce shortage and ensuring funds are available to provide necessary services are among the major challenges facing the healthcare industry, leaders said Wednesday at a Health News Illinois panel.

Polly Davenport, the ministry market executive for Ascension Illinois, called for workforce-related changes, like more flexible scheduling for employees and creating pipelines with schools.

“If we do not increase the pipeline for imaging techs and respiratory — it’s not just nursing — I’m not sure who’s going to be at the bedside in 10 or 15 years,” Davenport said.

David Gomel, CEO of Rosecrance Health Network, said additional funding is necessary for many providers to recruit and retain staff. They often have to compete with salaries offered by non-healthcare groups like Amazon, and the problem is only getting worse as demand increases statewide for mental health and substance use disorder treatments.

“We’ve shut down 600 beds within Rosecrance and we’ve shut down wings because we don’t have enough individuals to keep it safe, with hundreds of people on waiting lists,” Gomel said. “So it’s an unusual issue.”

As a Medicaid managed care organization, Meridian Illinois’ “number one job” is to ensure access to quality care for patients, said CEO Cristal Gary.

“When the providers in our network are facing workforce shortages and capacity issues, that impacts our members,” she said. “That impacts our ability to fulfill our mission and our contractual requirements, quite frankly.”

While they are working with providers to address access and capacity, Meridian has its own challenges hiring front-line positions, such as care managers and those in long-term services and support, Gary said.

Along with workforce, Lawndale Christian Health Center CEO James Brooks said they have to focus on the overall health of the community they serve. That includes the ongoing opioid crisis and social determinants of health like housing.

“As a community health center, it’s the workforce, but also the deeper issues within our community that our marginalized people are dealing with,” he said.

Loretto Hospital CEO Tesa Anewishki said funding is the major challenge facing safety-net providers. While most hospitals will see a Medicaid rate increase in 2024, the financial model is still “20 years behind,” she said.

“I’m a huge proponent in terms of advocating for investment in safety-net institutions because of the vulnerable populations that we serve,” Anewishki said. “How do we retain funding? How will we ever be able to really expand with the needs of a population? … We know that we will find some innovative ways to make sure that we’re able to continue with our care delivery.”