(US Navy: Flickr)
Hospital team moves patient from one bed to another. (U.S. Navy: Flickr)

California stands to reap tens of thousands of jobs because of the federal health care overhaul — according to a new report [PDF] by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute (BACEI).

Researchers compared the state’s 2010 workforce to what it might have been if the Affordable Care Act had been fully implemented in that year. They concluded that once the ACA is fully in place in 2014 almost 99,000 new jobs will be created as a result of the law, most of them in Southern California. The Sacramento Valley will see the largest increase rate: a 1.3 percent boost in job opportunities.

But ironically, health care jobs are not always healthy for the worker. Odd hours, ergonomics, and environmental factors contribute to specific risks for hospital and clinic workers.

By its nature health care is a 24-hour enterprise. Dr. Catherine Lau works nights almost exclusively as director of Nighttime Hospitalist Service at the UC San Francisco Medical Center. In an interview Lau said that while she appreciates the quiet, it can be “a little disorienting” to work at night in a windowless space. Shift-working nurses show higher rates of breast cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Nurses, physical therapists, and other health care workers push, pull, reach, bend, lift, and carry – and too often from positions and postures that challenge good body mechanics. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants are four times more likely to be injured on the job than the average worker in the United States. The California Safe Patient Handling Act regulates the lifting and transfer of hospital patients, however, it has been in effect less than year – not long enough to measure improvements.

Hospital air exposes patients and staff to potentially hundreds of toxins including formaldehyde from out-gassing building materials, medical waste and cleaning products. In a 2009 survey by the Center for Health Design, two-thirds of providers in both hospitals and ambulatory care centers called indoor air quality “a major problem.” In fact, it was singled out as the most urgent design problem. Hospitals will always have bad smells, but Lau said in her current hospital “the air quality in general is pretty good” though some floors are better than others.

Employee unions, healthcare systems and regional organizations are working toward healthier health care environments across the state. California-based Dignity Health and Kaiser Permanente are part of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, a project sponsored in part by Health Care Without Harm, an international advocacy organization promoting sustainable healthcare.

With the state unemployment rate hovering around 11 percent, the Employment Development Department has projected that healthcare jobs will grow 24 percent by 2018. The Affordable Care Act was not designed to be an economic stimulus bill, but the BACEI report calls the ACA an “economic boon” — albeit with some known risks to workers — for California.

New Health Care Jobs: How Healthy? 1 June,2012Eve Harris

  • That health workers should be the healthiest amongst us is an irony. They are exposed to diseases, they work on an erratic, strenuous schedule, and sometimes they work as long as 48 hours! That is just a recipe for health disaster. We should continue pushing for healthier working environments for health workers.

State of Health Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor