The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment has released a brief – The Aging Workface: Challenges for the Healthcare Industry Workforce – that addresses the aging American workforce, provides examples of current initiatives healthcare employers are using, and discusses strategies and promising practices for employers and policymakers.

Make no mistake, the American workforce is aging. By 2016, one-third of the total U.S. workforce will be 50 years or older. By 2020, that group may reach 115 million individuals. The challenges in healthcare will be even greater, as that workforce is already older than workers in many other industry sectors. The average age of a registered nurse in the U.S. is 50; by 2020, nearly half of all RNs will reach traditional retirement age. Nearly one-quarter of physicians are 60 years or older, according to a 2007 nationwide study.

Combine these trends with a growing older general population and an expanded group of patients covered by the Affordable Care Act, and it is easy to understand the challenges healthcare employers face: More patients needing high quality healthcare services and potentially fewer workers to meet those needs. In addition, an aging healthcare workforce presents its own problems. Healthcare workers with acquired disabilities and other age-related health conditions may reduce a facility’s functional capacity. Over time, the serious challenges facing healthcare employers will become plainly apparent.

The new DOL issue brief offers valuable insights, references to worthwhile resources, concrete examples of how some healthcare systems are addressing the needs of their aging workers, and thoughtful suggestions for employers and policymakers alike.