Aging population creating shortages in health care

The health-care industry is swimming upstream when it comes to unemployment, says the CEO of hospital staffer AMN Healthcare Services.

While the headline U.S. unemployment rate dipped below 4 percent in 2018, signaling powerful hiring trends, the health-care space has been a pocket of pain when it comes to hiring, Susan Salka, the president and CEO of AMN, told CNBC on Thursday.

“We have a lot of things driving our industry, certainly starting with an aging population, which drives utilization of health care,” Salka said in a Thursday interview with Jim Cramer. “But it also creates shortages within the health-care workforce.”

“We have really severe shortages within nursing, physician, allied, and even within leadership,” she said on “Mad Money.” “So we’re really seeing those two things come together right at the worst time, probably, for health care, but that’s where AMN comes in.”

AMN, which has a market cap of roughly $2.5 billion, offers a variety of workforce services to health-care providers. Its main line of business is staffing, which often goes beyond simply assigning candidates to open positions, Salka said.

“We’re in a time when the number of health-care job openings, if you just look at the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] data, … are twice the number of hires. In fact, we are at record highs for vacancies and job quits,” the CEO said. “So it’s really essential that we bring everything that we can to help them get the staff they need, whether it be temporary or permanent. It’s also really important that we help our clients to optimize the staff that they have.”

For AMN, optimizing hospital staff means making sure nurses and physicians are where they need to be at all times via predictive analytics and better scheduling methods. It can also mean dramatically slashing costs for AMN clients.

“Workforce is 50 percent of a hospital’s budget, and half of that is nursing. So anything we can do to help ensure that they are being as efficient as possible is absolutely critical,” Salka told Cramer.

AMN shares fell 2.23 percent to $54.41 in Thursday’s trading session as weakness filtered through the broader market. The stock saw modest gains in 2018, an otherwise volatile year for the market and the health-care cohort.

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