Sunday, May 19, 2024

Wisconsin lieutenant governor discusses health care workforce during Douglas County tour

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SUPERIOR — Wisconsin’s Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez stopped in Douglas County Friday, May 3 to touch base with students, the medical community and nature.

At Superior High School, Rodriguez spoke to students in civics and government classes about the importance of voting.

“What I talked to them about is that the age group that is least likely to vote are the ones that were sitting in that room, which is 18 to 25,” Rodriguez said. “And so, if they want to have a voice in what their future looks like, they need to register to vote and they need to vote in every election.”

At Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Superior, the discussion focused on ways to recruit and retain health care workers.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez talks about the importance of collecting ideas for recruitment, education and retention of health care workers from throughout the state during a stop at Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Superior Friday, May 3.

Maria Lockwood / Duluth Media Group

“As the chair of the health care workforce task force, I’ve been traveling all around the state of Wisconsin and talking to different health care systems and trying to understand what the challenges are and if they have any solutions that they’re using to make sure that they can attract (and) retain the health care workforce here,” said Rodriguez, who has a clinical background in public health. “And Essentia Health has a lot of great things that they’re working on. And being able to cross-pollinate some of those ideas across the state, I think, is going to be really interesting for the task force to be able to move forward.”

Wisconsin’s registered nurse workforce is far from the projected annual growth of 4,000 needed to meet demand in the coming decade, according to the

Wisconsin Hospital Association’s 2024 Wisconsin Health Care Workforce Report

.

Rhonda Kazik, chief nurse executive for Essentia Health, told the lieutenant governor that the Superior hospital is leading the country in low turnover rates — 3% at the Superior facility compared to the average 6% for all Essentia system properties.

“And today, we opened up a position and 10 people applied within eight hours. A year ago, that was not the case,” Kazik said.

She attributes that to good leadership and initiatives like the 2022 hiring of two full-time nurse retention workers, who spend time caring for their caregiver colleagues. When you have staff who are happy, Kazik said, patients are happier. It also improves relationships throughout the hospital.

“One of the things that I’ve been hearing about from different rural hospitals is that if we can get the students into the hospital, we have such a fantastic culture here that they often stay,” Rodriguez said.

A program currently underway brings nursing students from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to the Superior hospital for leadership immersion.

“And so they are seeing another side of health care and another opportunity as an RN,” said Adrienne Radovich, director of nursing at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Hospital in Superior.

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Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez listens to administrators discuss initiatives to recruit and retain health care workers at Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Superior Friday, May 3.

Maria Lockwood / Duluth Media Group

Wisconsin has made a great investment in the health care workforce, Rodriguez said, but the state can always do better.

“One of the other things I wanted to make sure that I mentioned, particularly because it is important for rural health, is Medicaid expansion,” Rodriguez said. “How Wisconsin is now one of only 10 states that has not expanded Medicaid across the nation, and we would be able to get over almost $2 billion over the biennium to be able to invest in health care in Wisconsin.”

Hospital director Kim Pearson also mentioned the need for next-of-kin legislation in Wisconsin,

something the Wisconsin Hospital Association is pushing for

. Currently, a signed power of attorney is required to make care decisions in Wisconsin, even for a person’s next of kin. If one isn’t in place, a court hearing is required to appoint a guardian and the person has to remain in the hospital until that is complete. That can take up beds other patients need, Pearson said.

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Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez smiles as she shakes hands with an administrator at Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Superior Friday, May 3 during a stop in Superior to discuss ways to bolster the health care workforce.

Maria Lockwood / Duluth Media Group

“Every time I go to a different hospital system or a different clinic, I learn something new. And I really like to be able to sit around the table to talk to folks,” said Rodriguez.

Different health care systems — rural, urban and on tribal lands — have unique needs.

“And to be able to bring that back to the health care task force is going to be really important for me,” the lieutenant governor said.

One program she discussed was

a nursing apprenticeship program that was launched by UW Health in partnership with Madison College in 2023

. There were 200 applicants for the 16 spots in the first cohort, Rodriguez said.

Essentia staff appreciated the lieutenant governor’s visit, and her expertise.

“She’s been in the field and understands the work, especially in health care and the complexities and the shifting challenges. So she’s very intuitive,” Kazik said.

“I like that she encouraged the innovation, which I think is huge,” Radovich said.

A hike, then fishing prep

Rodriguez continued the health care conversation at Northwood Technical College, where a tour and discussion of their needs were planned. Her itinerary was capped off with a hike at Pattison State Park before preparing for the Governor’s Fishing Opener Saturday on Yellow Lake in Burnett County.

“So big bet with the governor that I will get a bigger fish than he has. We’ll see. I lost last year, but hopefully this year is my year,” Rodriguez said.

The bet with Gov. Tony Evers last year, and again this year, is for ice cream. His favorite is a McDonald’s vanilla soft-serve cone, according to the lieutenant governor.

“He really likes ice cream cones,” Rodriguez said.

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Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez, right, listens to administrators discuss initiatives they’ve launched to improve recruitment and retention of health care workers at Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Superior Friday, May 3.

Maria Lockwood / Duluth Media Group

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Adrienne Radovich, director of nursing for Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Superior, front left, talks with Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez during her visit to the hospital Friday, May 3.

Maria Lockwood / Duluth Media Group

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