Dan Walters: Health care triple whammy

By: Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders have labored mightily to expand health insurance to the millions of Californians who lack it, so far without success.

Were they to succeed, however, would the state’s health care system be able to handle a flood of new patients? Perhaps not, if a new report on shortages in health care workers is accurate.

An organization called the Campaign for College Opportunity put together the report, released Monday, which says not only that the aging of the baby boom generation is creating new demands for health care, but that a very high percentage of today’s health workers are baby boomers and will be soon retiring in droves.

The organization called it a “double whammy,” with particularly acute shortages in what are called “allied health fields,” the sub-professional X-ray technicians, respiratory therapists and so forth who fill 60 percent of health jobs.

“As Californians, all of our health care depends on getting more students into and through community college and university training programs,” Abdi Soltani, executive director of the organization, said.

Health care is not alone in experiencing a double whammy, which is actually a triple whammy when one also places overall population growth into the equation. Manufacturing, construction, auto repair jobs and dozens of other industries are feeling the same pinch of hiring and retaining sufficient trained workers.

There is, however, a larger context to the problem – another double whammy, as it were. The state has sorely neglected vocational education in the popular, if wrongheaded, drive to direct every high school student into college, even though no more than a fifth of high school graduates will, in fact, obtain four-year degrees.

A recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that nearly two-thirds of Californians believe that someone must have a college education to succeed, which is patently wrong, as the highly paid technical and blue collar jobs now going begging attest. Politicians and the education establishment feed that canard through policies that elevate college preparation above all other considerations.

At the same time, however, California is losing millions of potential replacements for those aging baby boom workers by allowing nearly a third of high school students to drop out without obtaining diplomas. Just last week, the Associated Press reported that 12 percent of the nation’s high schools are “dropout factories” that graduate fewer than 60 percent of their entering students and 107 of the 1,700 schools listed were in California, nearly half of them in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The new survey on looming shortages of health care workers, especially nurses and technicians, is another clue to the disconnect between what’s happening in California’s 6 million-student system of public education and what’s happening in the real world.

California has done fairly well by its college-bound students. We have a world-class, three-level system of higher education with fees that are among the lowest in the nation, even if those in the PPIC survey complained about costs. But our K-12 system is in critical condition, overwhelmed by a tsunami of students from an astonishing array of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, entangled in a thicket of often contradictory curriculum decrees from politicians and educational bureaucrats, financed by incomprehensibly dense, completely illogical funding formulas, and whipped around by parental expectations and union-influenced local school district politics.

The governor and other politicians who are failing on their pledges to fix health care this year have proclaimed that they’ll fix public education next year. Yeah, right.

Comments are closed.