Just shortly after Meriter Hospital announced plans for expansion, the Wisconsin Hospitals Association released data indicating a shortage in health care workers.

According to WHA Vice President Judy Warmuth, hospitals continue dealing with a slow growth in the health care workforce and a more demanding customer base with the aging population.

“With any shortage there are two factors: the demand and the supply,” Warmuth said. “On the demand side, we consume more health care because Wisconsin is really an aging state with higher needs for older residents. … We haven’t increased our supply to meet that demand.”

After Meriter Hospital announced last week they will be expanding, questions have arisen about how the worker shortage will affect the hospital.

Meriter has plans to construct four new buildings at the Park Street location and add at least two buildings at its new location on the south side of Madison.

“The projected health workers shortage does concern us,” said Mae Knowles, spokesperson for Meriter.

Knowles stated Meriter has advantage being in a community with health care training programs at the University of Wisconsin, Edgewood College and MATC.

“Many of these programs do clinical rotations within the hospital, and the students are comfortable within our environment, and that helps our recruiting efforts,” Knowles said.

Warmuth said most hospitals’ No. 1 strategy to deal with the shortage is growing its workforce by partnering with local schools and doing educational loan repayment and tuition reimbursement programs.

“Also, [they are] trying to find people that are interested in going from maybe a housekeeper to a lab tech,” Warmuth said.

A substantial number of benefits and scholarships are offered to young people interested in going to school for health care.

Meriter’s expansion comes after two other major hospitals in Madison underwent expansions. St. Mary’s Hospital on South Mills Street added two new buildings and a parking structure, while UW Hospital opened American Family Children’s Hospital a year ago.

However, if the current workforce shortage persists statewide, Warmuth said the problem will become worse each passing year.

When asked if the amount of education necessary to work in heath care was contributing to the shortage, Warmuth said there are many shorter programs for health care jobs.

“The nursing assistant program is very brief, and it takes only a few months of training, so it’s a good idea to see if it’s right for you and then decide whether or not to make the next move,” Warmuth said.

She added hospitals demand a diverse workforce, such as pharmacists, nurse practitioners and occupational therapists, but the supply primarily consists of women.

“This is not as big an issue as back when I entered nursing,” Warmuth continued. “Women didn’t have a lot of opportunities then, but it still is an issue.”