Workforce challenges in rural communities subject of public hearing

Workforce challenges faced by employers in rural communities were voiced by PA Chamber Director of Government Affairs Kevin Sunday this week in a public hearing hosted by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. 

Held at Penn College, the hearing included participants from PA Chamber members, UPMC, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Coterra Energy, Shippensburg University, and Penn College. Leaders from Pennsylvania’s energy and healthcare sectors along with agency officials, educators, and nonprofit associations were also on hand. 

Sunday testified on workforce challenges in rural communities, highlighting the importance of improving Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness through favorable tax and regulatory policies. He said the PA Chamber’s goal is to make Pennsylvania the most economically competitive state in the country. 

“This requires a tax and regulatory environment that encourages investment into the state,” Sunday said in a release. 

Sunday emphasized the need to support economic growth across Pennsylvania through modernized infrastructure. 

“We need modernized infrastructure across the state – from a safe and efficient system of roads and bridges to world-class airports and ports, to reliable gas, electric, and water infrastructure, and, just as important, access to high-speed broadband,” he said.

Sunday restated the chamber’s support for efforts to improve Pennsylvania’s workforce by addressing key issues such as affordable childcare, occupational licensing requirements, re-entry into the workforce following incarceration, and childcare for working families.

Noting Pennsylvania’s population decline, Sunday called for policymakers to focus on creating an environment in the state promotes population growth and attracts investment. Citing IRS data showing that businesses and citizens are leaving Pennsylvania for states with better economic climates, he urged a close look at regional economic needs and population migration trends.

“Reforms to the state’s tax and regulatory structure help everywhere,” said Sunday, “but it is certainly the case that each region of the state has its own key industries.”

Sunday reiterated the PA Chamber’s commitment to working with the Shapiro Administration, state legislature, local communities, and other key stakeholders to deal with Pennsylvania’s workforce challenges.

Women bring critical traits to health care leadership

The United States health care industry impacts people across the nation and around the world. Health care has evolved over the years, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, due in part to the exponential technological advancements that have improved patient care, treatment follow-up and other important issues.  

Health care has been a male-dominated field without much room for women to advance in the past. Although the playing field continues to shift, women still struggle to break through to the higher levels of health care leadership. That power dynamic is particularly interesting because women tend to be the primary decision-makers when it comes to the health care, they and their family members receive.  

Some industries have seen significant growth among women in leadership positions, but the health care industry continues to move slowly. The number of women serving in executive roles in this industry has remained fairly low since 2015. Only 15.3% of health system CEOs were women in 2021, according to a study by JAMA Network Open. The same study found that only 15.8% of health insurance company CEOs were women. 

Research reports a variety of major traits that powerful successful female CEOs and top business leaders possess. Twelve of the traits include: Strength, entrepreneurial spirit, perseverance, adaptability, how to avoid bad advice, empathy, humility, persuasiveness, resilience, positivity, commitment to life-long learning and vision. 

Women health care executives perform well in multiple aspects of leadership that are critical to the health care industry.
For example, a 2021 study by McKinsey & Company and Leanin.org found that within 423 companies across the U.S. and Canada, women were better than men at: 

  • Providing emotional support to employees: 31% of women compared with 19% of men  
  • Considering the well-being of employees: 61% of women compared with 54% of men 
  • Helping employees navigate work-life challenges: 29% of women compared with 24% of men 
  • Intervening to prevent or deal with employee burnout: 21% of women compared with 16% of men  
  • Leading and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion efforts: 11% of women compared with 7% of men

Here are six actions that highlight attributes successful women leaders bring to health care leadership positions.  


Mentorship is a relationship in which someone more experienced or knowledgeable helps guide someone less experienced or knowledgeable. This is very important because of the critical need to train the next generation of health care leadership.  

Women leaders believe they have an obligation to mentor and support others and especially women to aid in their professional development, to build confidence and to guide them through challenges. 

There is a very high demand today for strong leadership qualities in health care. One report indicates that 84% of organizations predict they will experience a shortage of skilled leaders in the next 5 years. So, mentoring and training are absolutely critical. 

Challenge the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality 

A great leader always will be thoughtful, deliberate and open to new ideas and new things such as testing a new process, idea or different approach. The leader is the major factor in whether or not an idea gets implemented and it depends upon the leader’s willingness to step outside their comfort zone.  

Women leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit are willing to take small risks and reinvent the rules and turn challenges into opportunities.  

Teach others 

A commitment to teach others is a fundamental component in health care and a key quality of a great leader. Great leaders have a responsibility to educate those that are following them and pass along knowledge to entire populations about important issues. 

A life of constant learning with personal and professional growth is another powerful trait of strong women leaders. They use what they learn to lead by example. 

Demonstrate humility 

The COVID-19 pandemic provided lots of opportunities to consider different ways of thinking and to realize that the knowledge base was changing and that new or better approaches were developing. 

Humility is often considered a characteristic female leadership trait. A great leader is humble and has the ability to recognize and encourage different points of view and then be able to accept and change direction. 

Create opportunities for others 

Recognize and accept how important it is to focus on the next generation of health care leaders. Women leaders recognize this because opportunities empower women more broadly in society and this can have a positive impact on others. 

A great leader must possess the ability to step out of the spotlight and let someone else take the lead so they can challenge themselves to grow and see what they can achieve. This will enable them to think about the path they want for their future through opportunities for them to build their foundation and achieve their personal goals. 

Inspire others 

Successful leaders inspire teams, boost productivity and help their organizations achieve their goals. Strong leadership is essential in health care because decision made at the top can and will have a profound impact on entire populations of other people. Women leaders believe they have a responsibility to pay it forward by empowering people, especially other women, to embrace opportunities and possibilities beyond the limits of their imagination.  


Women that exhibit these actions can lead health care organizations that are efficient, effective and equitable. 


Closing Thought 

“The first thing that came to my mind was an inclusive culture. And inclusive on a lot of different levels — not just from a diversity perspective, but also inclusive in decision-making and the feeling that you can come to work every day and do your very best for patients.” 

Cheryl Nester Wolfe, RN, CEO at Salem (Ore.) Health Hospitals & Clinics, on which changes are needed within the healthcare work environment to improve retention. 

Glenn Ebersole is a registered professional engineer and the Director of Business Development at JL Architects, a nationally licensed commercial architecture firm based in West Chester. He can be contacted by [email protected] or 717-575-8572. 



Lehigh Valley, central Pa. represented by student entrepreneurs

Student entrepreneurs will represent the Lehigh Valley and central Pennsylvania today in the final round of the annual State System Startup Challenge, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) announced. 

Jake Hill of Camp Hill and a student at West Chester University, and Stelios Melekos of Churchville and East Stroudsburg University, will join Victoria Heffelfinger of North Huntingdon and Pennsylvania Western University (PennWest) in featuring products and services in high demand. The three finalists will pitch their business plans to judges today for an opportunity to gain funds for their startup or expand their existing business. 

The student entrepreneurs will discuss products in three academic areas within PASSHE universities and three industries with worker shortages – education, healthcare, and business. The start-up challenges fit with PASSHE universities’ efforts to address workforce shortages in education, healthcare, business, social services, engineering, and computer science. 

“These student entrepreneurs have innovative and exciting startups that combine business, healthcare and education, which are three fields in high demand in Pennsylvania,” said Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia D. Shapira. 

“State System universities are preparing thousands of students for success as entrepreneurs, and I commend the supportive faculty and the remarkable ingenuity and energy of the students.” 

Henry is a senior Bachelor of Applied Science student with a pharmaceutical product development concentration. His business plan is Lectra Technologies LLC, which produces Lectra Tape to help people navigate their rehabilitation process and complete physical therapy. 

Lectra Tape is conductive kinesiology tape that delivers electrical pulses from a wireless muscle stimulator to aid in the healing and rehabilitation process. Sensors in the tape collect data that is analyzed and shared with the user and physical therapists, so they can adjust rehabilitation plans to provide the best results and encourage the individual to continue their physical therapy. 

Melekos is a junior business management student with a concentration in entrepreneurship. Melekos’ business is Blitz Performance LLC, which provides anglers with the highest quality and most innovative lures and apparel for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Blitz Performance products are available to retail customers online at blitzfishingperformance.com and wholesale at tackle shops across five states. Blitz Performance looks to build a sense of community around the brand by developing the tools to catch more fish and make the most of anglers’ time on the water. 

Heffelfinger is a freshman special education student. Her business plan is Wildlife Water School LLC, an aquatic instruction school that provides swimming lessons for people ages 6 months and older. Offering an inclusive environment for people of all abilities and backgrounds, the school provides basic skills, infant swimming resources, and advanced instruction. Specialized lessons for people with disabilities or other challenges are also available. Wildlife Water School intends to offer aquatic therapy in the future. 

First prize is $10,000, and second- and third-place finishers will receive respective prizes of $5,000 and $2,500. The finalists were selected from more than 60 students and student teams from across the state-owned public university system. 

The Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) will air the competition live tonight at 7. The program can also be viewed live on PCN Select. 

“The ingenuity and energy of these finalists speaks volumes about the spirit of innovation that is thriving at our universities,” Chancellor Dan Greenstein said. “Several past winners of this competition have launched their own businesses from the ideas born of this real-life experience, and I look forward to the new businesses that may emerge from this year’s competition.”

PASSHE takes action to address crucial nursing shortage

To address a critical nursing shortage, Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is seeking $112 million in state funding to train more students in six in-demand, high-growth jobs, including nurses and physician assistants. 

PASSHE universities would use $12.5 million of the $112 million request to create a stronger pipeline of nurses and physician assistants from the classroom to the workforce. To save high-need students and average of $5,000 per year, the universities would use $7 million to provide direct financial aid to nursing and physician assistant students. 

The remaining $5.5 million would be used to expand high-cost nursing programs. 

Reducing the financial cost to obtain a degree is a crucial step toward enabling more people to start their education to become nurses and physician assistants. Affordability is particularly important for urban and rural students to have the chance to work at healthcare facilities and hospitals and ease the significant labor shortages the nursing industry is experiencing. 

The shortage of nurses and assistant physicians is severely straining the ability of Pennsylvania’s healthcare system to provide patient care. A recent industry survey in Pennsylvania found vacancy rates of 32% for certified registered nurse practitioners and nursing support staff, 30% for registered nurses providing direct care, and 17% for clinical nurse specialists. 

As baby boomers age and require increased health care, the shortage of frontline workers is expected to worsen. According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the median age of RNs is 52, indicating a potential wave of retirements within the next 15 years. 

Healthcare is the System’s third largest academic program with more than 11,000 students, including 4,680 nursing and physician assistant students, and more than eight and 10 nursing students stay in the state following graduation. 

Yet to deal with the needs of Pennsylvania’s aging population, it is expected that by 2030, 34% more physicians will be required, 33% more nurse practitioners, and 9% more nurses. 

To further prepare more workers to ease labor shortages, PASSHE is separately requesting $573.5 million, an inflationary increase of $21 million, enabling the Board of Governors to consider freezing basic in-state undergraduate tuition for an unprecedented fifth consecutive year.

Heartland Healthcare Services closing Allentown pharmacy; 71 lose jobs

Heartland Healthcare Services, which operates long-term care pharmacies, is closing its Allentown location at 7010 Snowdrift Road No. 1, idling 71 employees.

The announcement was made this week in a federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act filing with the state Department of Labor & Industry.

Employees, none of whom are unionized, will lose their jobs “on or about Feb. 28,” the WARN notice said.

Heartland said in the filing that the decision was made because of ProMedica’s closing its nursing facilities, “sudden, dramatic and unexpected business circumstances not reasonably foreseeable.” The company had no further comment.

Established in 1994, Heartland has three other long-term care pharmacies – in Ohio, Maryland and Florida, according to its website.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Considerations for long-term employees nearing retirement

For employees getting on in years, the litany of decisions that need to be made before retirement is a long, complex and even intimidating one. For long-term employees especially, the options may seem overwhelming indeed.  


Labor Statistics 

Before delving into these retirement considerations, let’s take a moment to talk about some statistics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees in the manufacturing and utility/energy sectors tend to stay with a company longer (at least 5.1 and 7.7 years respectively) than employees in other sectors (4.1 years on average). And since some of the Lehigh Valley’s largest employers fall into the manufacturing or utility/energy sector, we can assume that by the time these employees are approaching retirement, they are likely to be fully vested in their companies’ retirement plans and probably have a broad array of retirement benefits available to them. 


Long-Term Employees: Retirement Basics and More 

Like every other soon-to-be retiree, long-term employees need to determine the basics: the optimal time for you to retire, your tax bracket upon retiring, whether you’ll have sufficient income in retirement to last the rest of your life, and when to begin taking Social Security. But a long-tenured employee also needs to think about more financially complicated scenarios, such as how to handle net unrealized appreciation of company stock in a 401(k) plan and possibly whether to receive a pension as a lump sum or in monthly payments over a lifetime. A trusted financial planner can help.  


Net Unrealized Appreciation of Company Stock 

If you plan to roll over your 401(k) when you retire and you have company stock in it, there are certain tax advantages to rolling the company stock portion (only) into a brokerage account, thanks to net unrealized appreciation (NUA) rules. NUA can be defined as “the difference in value between the average cost basis of shares of employer stock and the current market value of the shares.” Employees opting to roll over company shares into a brokerage account will pay income tax on the cost basis, but the remainder will be eligible for more favorable long-term capital gains tax treatment when the shares are ultimately sold. (But remember, only the company stock portion of the 401(k) can be rolled into a brokerage account.) Another advantage to pursuing this tax strategy is that you reduce assets that will be subject to future required minimum distributions RMDs.  

Yet, it’s not always a good idea to roll over company stock using the NUA tax strategy, it’s very complex and, therefore, important to consult with a financial advisor before making that decision.  


Pensions: Lump Sum vs. Monthly Payments 

Some lucky long-term employees work for companies that offer pensions upon retiring. If given the option of receiving a lump sum at the time of retirement or getting a monthly benefit for life, it can be hard to choose. By picking the lump sum option, investment-savvy retirees have the benefit of investing the money more directly. But having the funds up front can also be very tempting to certain individuals and there is a risk that the funds may not last over the course of your lifetime. So, it is critical to be able to honestly predict future spending behavior in retirement.  


If you choose the monthly pension payment option, and you pass away earlier than projected, your beneficiaries may no longer receive those monthly payments (unless you opted for spousal and survivor benefits upon your death – usually with smaller monthly payments). For certain personalities, knowing that you will receive monthly benefits for the rest of your life is a very reassuring prospect.  


Understand Your Company’s Specific Retirement Benefits Rules 

Prior to retiring, long-term employees would be wise to meet with your company’s human resources specialist to ask any future benefits questions you might have. Deferred compensation plan distribution options, for example, vary from company to company, so be sure to understand your company’s rules and carefully consider your options. Businesses also have their own rules guiding company stock options, restricted stock and performance shares upon retirement. Make sure you have a solid grasp of these rules.   



Company Retirement Healthcare Benefits 

In addition, it’s important for long-tenured employees to make a plan for future healthcare expenses. If you are younger than 65, determine if your company offers retiree healthcare insurance coverage for those not yet eligible for Medicare. And be sure to ascertain if your company offers Medicare supplemental plans for those 65 and older.  


Suffice it to say, long-term employees have countless scenarios to consider as they approach retirement. Be sure to have a firm grasp of your company’s retirement benefits and the rules guiding them so that you can make the best possible decisions for a long and happy life after work. Of course, financial planners have seen it all – and can help you make informed recommendations based on your unique circumstances.  



Marilee Falco, CFP®, ChFC, is a principal and financial strategist at Agili, responsible for client financial strategy and counsel, comprehensive financial planning and investment management as well as managing the firm’s Bethlehem office. She can be reached at [email protected].