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Health care jobs surge during recession

Iowa’s health care industry is about as close to being recession-proof as you can get.

Despite continuing structural and financial changes, it was the only Iowa industry to add significant numbers of new jobs during the recession.

State labor statistics show it added 5,500 jobs between May 2008 and December 2009. During the same period Iowa’s total nonfarm employment fell by 66,600. Since then, the Iowa economy has added back 34,100 jobs, including 4,300 in health care.

Although health care continues to add jobs, the types of jobs are changing as the industry is pulled and pushed by shifting demographics, new technology and cuts in government funding.

In the last year alone, Mercy Medical Center Des Moines saw its Medicaid payments reduced by $17.5 million, while the hospital’s Medicare payments have been cut by $9 million over the last three years, said Joseph LeValley, Mercy’s senior vice president of planning and advocacy.

Those and other cuts are pushing more hospital procedures down to the outpatient and clinic level, areas where the employment growth is occurring, LeValley said.

Mercy opened its first clinic in the Des Moines area 20 years ago and now has 40 metro-area clinics, he said.

Iowa Hospital Association spokesman Scott McIntyre agreed that most hospitals are not adding jobs, although they are typically among the largest employers in their local communities.

Iowa’s 118 hospitals employ about 69,000 people, McIntyre said, although statewide there are about 2,000 fewer hospital jobs now than in 2008.
New medical jobs are created daily

One area where an explosion of employment is just beginning, McIntyre said, is med tech record keeping. Most doctors are just beginning to convert patient records and billing procedures from handwritten to digital text that can be stored electronically.

“People who know the new (government billing) rules and the technology will be very sought after,” McIntyre said.

Along with hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities are also major employers. About 55,000 Iowans work for them, according to the Iowa Health Care Association, which represents for-profit and nonprofit nursing homes.

“We’ve seen small growth in nursing facilities, but larger growth in assisted living and ancillary services,” said Steve Ackerson, executive director of the Iowa Health Care Association.

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posted in: Iowa
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