The Hidden Effects of the Pandemic on Pennsylvania’s Health Care Community
July 07, 2021
It’s been more than a year since the pandemic hit Pennsylvania. The current numbers indicate that the light at the end of the tunnel is growing each day, but the fight against COVID-19 continues in the commonwealth with hospitals and health care workers at the epicenter.
These relatively quiet times came after a storm of cases and hospitalizations that put a tremendous burden on hospitals as well as their frontline workers. Hospitals adapted to several policy and operational changes to minimize the virus’ spread and save lives and the health care providers went above and beyond to take care of surges of COVID-19-related patients. However, these were not the only challenges the pandemic brought upon the commonwealth’s health care community.
The pandemic hit the health care workforce hard. Some providers were unable to work because of illness or exposure to COVID-19, decided to retire early, took leaves of absence out of increased health risk concerns, faced the stress and emotional strain of the pandemic, or experienced difficulty securing child care. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation and Washington Post poll, three out of ten health care workers consider leaving the profession and six in ten say stress has harmed their mental health as a result of the pandemic. In addition to that, a Medscape poll revealed that 25 percent of U.S. physicians are planning to retire earlier than previously planned due to pandemic. Pennsylvania has 139 primary, 153 dental, and 119 mental health care health professional shortage areas, and the additional burnout due to the pandemic might just increase this shortage of health care practitioners and reduce access to care for Pennsylvanians.
The needs of the populations that Pennsylvania’s hospitals serve also have changed since the start of the pandemic. The hidden effects of the pandemic, such as increased unemployment and mental health difficulties have added additional challenges for hospitals.
The commonwealth experienced increased unemployment since the start of the pandemic. The unemployment rate during the pandemic peaked during April 2020, with a rate of 16.1. Even though many people were able to go back to work, as of April 2021, Pennsylvania’s unemployment is still higher than the pre-pandemic economic environment. This will change the hospitals’ payor mix and increase uncompensated care, which was more than $800 million even before the pandemic.
COVID-19 also has increased mental and behavioral health needs all around the country. In emergency departments (ED), mental health-related ED reasons increased, shifting emergency departments’ priorities towards mental health, substance use, and violence risk screening and prevention.
When there is a will there is a way. Pennsylvania’s hospitals and health care workers have proved that they are up to the challenges the pandemic has brought and will continue to ensure a healthy Pennsylvania.
For more information, visit HAP’s recent report about the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Pennsylvania and its health care system.