A Quick Note From Andy Carter: Addressing Health Care’s Workforce Challenges
August 24, 2021
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived last year, I remember my phone ringing off the hook as hospital leaders asked a simple question.
“How will we secure our supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) amid an unprecedented wave of global demand?”
It is hard to believe how far we have come since March 2020, but I am overwhelmed at how many difficult problems we have tackled. COVID-19 is relentless as a respiratory virus and in the ways it forces us to adapt to the unknown.
Now, when I speak with hospital leaders across the state, I hear a clear consensus about our next pandemic priority. Again, it’s a simple question without an easy answer.
“What more can we do to staff our hospitals and also take care of our fatigued workforce?”
In Pennsylvania and across the nation, the picture is bleak. We need more respiratory therapists, infectious disease physicians, lab techs, and all types of support staff. Health systems are reporting vacancy rates approaching 20 percent in some parts of the commonwealth. At any given point, our systems are down as many as 250–300 nurses.
This is creating an enormous burden on the rest of the staff who are drained, raising concerns about sustaining the top-quality care Pennsylvania hospitals provide.
Hospitals and health systems are taking extraordinary steps to recruit, retain, and revitalize staff. Our health systems are offering signing and referral bonuses, shift-scheduling flexibility, loan forgiveness, long-term incentives to stay, recognition initiatives, and more. We also are seeing a renewed focus on resiliency programs to help staff members recover from the trauma they have experienced and the still-tough road ahead.
In response to these challenges, HAP is pursuing several strategies to support our health care workforce by:
- Fighting for the COVID-19 flexibilities and waivers that ease recruiting and staffing challenges
- Advocating for financial resources that promote retention and recruitment initiatives
- Identifying opportunities to support staff resilience. We are seeing growing interest at the state and federal level to support this critical work and are dedicated to helping hospitals roll out these programs
This is just part of the picture. HAP’s Health Care Talent Task Force is reconvening to review its 2019 recommendations through a COVID-19 lens. We’re looking to address the root causes of a chronic clinical workforce shortage that places tremendous strain on health care workers across the commonwealth.
Our next steps are critical, but the hospital community is ready to respond. We are addressing the regulatory barriers that block future nurses from ever entering the field. We are focused on new investments that promote high-paying jobs and stimulate economic growth. We are supporting our health care heroes, so they can support every patient who comes through our doors.
COVID-19 has forced us to embrace uncertainty while testing our problem-solving, our ingenuity, and our willingness to collaborate to face new challenges.
We have solved other difficult problems, and I know we will meet this one head on.