Using State Licensure Data to Assess North Carolina's Health Workforce COVID-19 Response Capacity
N C Med J
BACKGROUND In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care decision-makers in North Carolina needed information about the available health workforce in order to conduct workforce surge planning and to anticipate concerns about professional or geographic workforce shortages.METHOD Descriptive and cartographic analyses were conducted using licensure data held by the North Carolina Health Professions Data System to assess the supply of respiratory therapists, nurses, and critical care physicians in North Carolina. Licensure data were merged with population data and numbers of intensive care unit (ICU) beds drawn from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Healthcare Cost Report Information System (HCRIS).RESULTS The pandemic highlighted how critical data infrastructure is to public health infrastructure. Respiratory therapists and acute care, emergency, and critical care nurses were diffused broadly throughout the state, with higher concentrations in urban areas. Critical care physicians were primarily based in areas with academic health centers.LIMITATIONS Data were unavailable to capture the rapid changes in supply due to clinicians reentering or exiting the workforce. County-level analyses did not reflect individual, facility-level supply, which was needed to plan organizational responses.CONCLUSIONS Health care decision-makers in North Carolina were able to access information about the supply of clinicians critical to caring for COVID-19 patients due to the state's long-standing investments in health workforce data infrastructure. Ability to respond was made easier due to strong working relationships between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program, the health professional licensure boards, and state government health care agencies.