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Hospital Nurse Leaders Describe ‘Perfect Storm’ of Workforce Challenges

Committee hearing addresses price gouging, impact of burnout, workforce shortages, and solutions

December 01, 2021

Pennsylvania is facing a “perfect storm” of workforce challenges in health care, as nurses and other staff retire or leave their roles, and hospitals struggle to fill vacancies, a panel of hospital nurse leaders told lawmakers during a committee hearing today.

Penn State Health hosted the Pennsylvania House Majority Policy Committee at the Life Lion hangar in Hershey. The hearing focused on the nursing workforce challenges facing the health care community.

Pennsylvania’s hospitals are experiencing a difficult “collision,” as the need for health care increases and the available workforce decreases, said Deborah Addo, MPH, Penn State Health’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

In addition to Addo, the hearing included testimony from Michele Szkolnicki, RN, FACHE, CMPE, Penn State Health’s senior vice president and chief nursing officer; Janet Tomcavage, MSN, RN, Geisinger’s executive vice president and chief nursing executive; and Margaret DiCuccio, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer at Allegheny General Hospital, Allegheny Health Network.

HAP’s Jeffrey Bechtel, senior vice president, health economics and policy, testified during the event, highlighting key workforce priorities and recommendations from HAP’s Health Care Talent Task Force.

“Due to the scope and extent of this crisis, much more remains to be done,” Bechtel said in prepared remarks. “The commonwealth can achieve success only through a coordinated and persistent multi-year effort by the administration, General Assembly, and other stakeholders."

Jennifer Partyka, MSN, RN, NE-BC, of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, and Maureen Casey, BSN, RN, peri-anesthesia, SEIU Healthcare, also testified during the event.

Among the topics the panelists discussed:

  • Hospital recruitment and retention incentives:  Hospitals are increasing incentives to recruit and retain their workforce, including education benefits, retention and sign-on bonuses, and other innovative programs, but there is a shortage of nurses available to fill open positions
  • Travel agencies:  Hospitals are struggling to cover the extraordinary costs for nurse travel agencies and are losing staff to these agencies. The state should evaluate opportunities to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to alleviate staffing and labor costs
  • The impact of burnout:  Pennsylvania’s nurses are facing significant mental health challenges stemming from the toll of COVID-19 that will need to be addressed
  • Solutions:  Additional funding is needed to support nursing education, faculty, and the pipeline of new nurses. Regulatory flexibility and initiatives related to licensing can help ease the shortage. Loan-forgiveness programs and policies allowing nurses to practice to the full extent of their licenses are also important
  • Ratios:  Lawmakers are considering a bill related to nurse staffing ratios for hospitals and health systems. Mandating ratios does not address the underlying shortage of nurses available to care for Pennsylvanians

Even before COVID-19, the health care community faced obstacles recruiting and retaining staff, with a third of the available nursing workforce set for retirement during the next ten to 15 years. The pandemic only has accelerated these challenges, the panelists said.

HAP will continue to advocate for legislative and policy solutions that will bolster Pennsylvania’s health care workforce and support hospitals’ recruitment and retention efforts.

A replay of the hearing is available online.

For more information, contact Jeffrey Bechtel, HAP’s senior vice president, health economics and policy, or Heather Tyler, vice president, state legislative advocacy. For more about HAP’s workforce priorities, contact Mary Marshall, HAP’s director, workforce and professional development.