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Health care tech workers in high demand

| Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

A high percentage of older adults in the region means hospitals need support staff to monitor heart-related ailments, so cardiac monitor technicians are among the most in-demand technical jobs, officials say.

UPMC, the region's dominant health care provider, places most of its in-patients on cardiac monitors, said Lauren Lloyd, the hospital system's director of recruitment. Among Allegheny County's 1.2 million residents, 17 percent were at least 65 in 2010, Census data show.

Cardiac monitor technicians and patient care technicians fall under the category of nursing aides, orderlies and attendants, Lloyd said. The Pittsburgh metro area has 16,771 jobs in that category, about 8 percent of them vacant, according to the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, Downtown. The median hourly wage is $12.48.

The field had the second-largest number of employees among Pittsburgh area health care jobs in 2011, second only to the area's 31,380 registered nurses. Yet, turnover is steady, hospital officials said.

"It's very demanding. You are expected to support the nurses and make sure that all the work is really getting done. But at the same time, you're supposed to be providing an excellent patient care experience to all those patients," Lloyd said.

UPMC calls its cardiac monitor technicians "patient care technicians" and hires about 500 of them each year to support about 10,000 nurses. Some use the job as a stepping stone, Lloyd said. UPMC pays the technicians $23,000 to $36,000 annually and usually has about 100 openings for the job.

The jobs of cardiac monitor and patient care technician at West Penn Allegheny Health System, the second-largest hospital system in the region, have been separate. But cardiac monitors found the work monotonous, which increased turnover, said Irv Naar, president of talent acquisition.

The heath system is starting to combine the positions, starting at Allegheny General, Naar said. West Penn Allegheny pays the technicians $27,000 to $33,300 annually, he said. It started the year with 23 openings for the job.

Sometimes, even technical jobs that pay well and require only two-year degrees or trade school certifications are hard to fill because people don't know they exist, said Pat Raffaele, vice president of advocacy and communications for the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania, a Cranberry-based group that represents hospitals in 32 counties.

"Everybody thinks about health care as a nurse, a doctor ... but there is so much more behind that," said Raffaele.

A federal law that will penalize health care providers for failing to use electronic health records by 2015 will spur most of Greensburg-based Excela Health's technology-related hiring, spokeswoman Robin Jennings said.

Excela is expecting a great need for health information technology and information management professionals, Jennings said.

"I think that we'll find more and more people will be looking for that field for their continuing education, even in terms of our own staff," she said.

Community College of Allegheny County offers a health information technology program and the University of Pittsburgh has a program in health information management.

Other careers in demand that require at least two-year college degrees are in imaging, such as diagnostic medical sonographers, nuclear medicine technologists and radiologic technologists and technicians. Hourly wages are $24.51, $25.27 and $21.97, respectively, in this region.

Crafton resident Brianna Reitz wanted to work in a hospital but didn't want to spend more than two years in college. She became a radiology technologist.

Reitz, 23, who earned an associate degree from Penn State-New Kensington, has worked at Allegheny General Hospital for five years. The job is gratifying but challenging, she said.

"It's high stress, high volume. It takes a lot of critical thinking, a lot of patience."

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