Leaders of two North­eastern Uni­ver­sity schools are teaming up to study the Amer­ican health-​​care pro­fes­sional work­force in part­ner­ship with Washington’s pres­ti­gious Bipar­tisan Policy Center.

Carole Kenner, dean of the School of Nursing, and Barry Blue­stone, dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, are studying the future demand for health care and the labor supply required to fill it, while cog­nizant of the need to rein in what Blue­stone called the ongoing “explo­sion in health-​​care costs.”

In addi­tion, Kenner and Blue­stone will inves­ti­gate the changes that will be needed in the edu­ca­tion and training of the health-​​care pro­fes­sional labor force in order to offer better health out­comes at a more rea­son­able cost.

The Bipar­tisan Policy Center (BPC) was founded by former U.S. Sens. Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Robert Dole and George Mitchell to develop and pro­mote solu­tions that can attract public sup­port from both Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans. Over the course of the next two years, the center’s Health Project will help states develop bipar­tisan solu­tions to meet their ongoing bud­getary, demo­graphic and health reform challenges.

The BPC invited leaders from select uni­ver­si­ties to work on health-​​care pro­fes­sional work­force issues, one of the Health Project’s key areas of focus. The Health Project’s Work­force Ini­tia­tive, chaired by Dr. Kavita Patel, former director of policy for the White House Office of Public Engage­ment and Inter­gov­ern­mental Affairs, will tackle some of the most chal­lenging issues about how to struc­ture, edu­cate, retain, license and reg­u­late a health-​​care work­force able to deliver effi­cient, patient-​​centered, high– quality care.

Kenner said she was asked to join the BPC task force based on aca­d­emic work at her pre­vious insti­tu­tion, the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois Champaign-​​Urbana. Kenner has long focused on ways to revamp health-​​care edu­ca­tion to meet the antic­i­pated demands of the U.S. population.

After being con­tacted by the bipar­tisan orga­ni­za­tion, Kenner reached out to Blue­stone. “We needed Barry’s exper­tise from an eco­nomic stand­point,” she said. “He has a great back­ground” on key issues, including demo­graphic and geo­graphic dif­fer­ences in employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties and obstacles.

I was excited to join the team,” he said, citing Northeastern’s “strong inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach” to finding solu­tions to global challenges.

The task force will review the lit­er­a­ture on health-​​care pro­fes­sional work­force issues, host round­ta­bles in state forums and pro­duce policy briefs and a white paper on the future of the health-​​care delivery system. The work will be impor­tant to the dis­cus­sion “whether or not Pres­i­dent Obama’s health-​​care reform is repealed,” Kenner noted.

Blue­stone is devel­oping, with the staff of Northeastern’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, a model to project the demand for care, “taking into account the aging of the Amer­ican pop­u­la­tion, increased racial and ethnic diver­sity and the cost of care in the var­ious regions of the country.”

The model will begin by assuming no change in the way health care is deliv­ered or in the work­force pro­viding it. Blue­stone sus­pects that under these assump­tions, the future cost of health care will be unsus­tain­able — very likely requiring 20 to 25 per­cent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

This sim­u­la­tion model will then be used to test what the cost impact would likely be of changing the “what, who and how of health-​​care delivery, as well as the impact of pro­grams to reduce health-​​care demand by, for instance, pro­moting healthier lifestyles.”

The Work­force Ini­tia­tive will address ques­tions such as whether the field needs addi­tional med­ical doc­tors or nurse prac­ti­tioners, or both; what tech­no­log­ical changes are immi­nent and what skills will be needed; what sav­ings could be achieved from using elec­tronic med­ical records; and whether the behavior of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion around issues such as nutri­tion can be mod­i­fied to stave off wide­spread health prob­lems such as dia­betes and obesity.

Along with those ques­tions, Kenner said, they will be eyeing health-​​care edu­ca­tion for adap­ta­tion, at the sec­ondary and post-​​secondary level. “Changes in edu­ca­tion models have, or poten­tially have, serious policy angles,” she noted.

With many months of research ahead in cities across the country, the deans intend to bring sev­eral North­eastern col­leagues into the mix quickly, said Bluestone.