In a hearing before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety held yesterday, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed their commitment to addressing the health care labor crisis that has grown increasingly more severe as the pandemic continues.
- Senator John Hickenlooper, Chair (D-CO): “Health care can be a vibrant, rewarding profession, but we have to give today’s health care workers and future health care workers opportunities to learn and thrive and grow at every level. If we want to combat the current burnout, and build a robust, diverse workforce in the future, this has to be a priority.”
- Senator Mike Braun, Ranking Member (R-IN): “I’m glad we’re having this hearing. Workforce is an issue across all states. It’s now the biggest deal, the biggest issue, in the biggest sector in our economy. And when you look at the percentages of how many have left, how many are considering leaving, we got to make sure we’re at least coming up with some good ideas and not necessarily just spending money on the problem.”
- Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI): “We have an urgent nursing shortage in the state of Wisconsin, in hospital settings, in clinical settings, in nursing home settings, although at the same time there are eligible students who are turned away from potential training because of the shortage of nursing faculty. And the aging of that workforce only suggests it’s going to get worse rather than better.”
- Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL): “We have so few nurses to go around that hospitals have resorted to contracting with nurse staffing agencies to fill empty slots. These agencies pair nurses who are willing to travel with hospitals facing large vacancies, and in many cases, they fill a very important need. I’m concerned, however, that these agencies might be taking advantage of a very dangerous situation. They’re able to charge a high percentage cut for their services, and hospitals have no choice but to pay their prices. This is huge in our state of Alabama. And I want to be clear, nurses are the backbone of our health care system, and they have been our frontline heroes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Every nurse should have the right to take the highest salary available. I do not want my question to be interpreted as undervaluing nurses’ worth in our health care system, but I am concerned that the staffing agencies might be exploiting our already overwhelmed health care system.”
This issue of potential anti-competitive practices by temporary staffing agencies is a concern in nursing homes and assisted living communities as well. At a time when long term care facilities are struggling to make sure they have enough staff to serve their residents and keep their doors open, staffing agencies are charging exorbitant rates and giving only a fraction to their clinical personnel. The American Health Care Association (AHCA) and the American Hospital Association (AHA) recently sent a joint letter to White House COVID-10 Response Team Coordinator Jeffrey Zients to bring attention to the matter.
While areas of bipartisan agreement in Congress are all too rare, the scope of this workforce challenge is too big to ignore.
A new report from the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) summarizing Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that long term care facilities have lost more than 400,000 caregivers since the beginning of the pandemic, more than any other health care sector.
With a growing elderly population, lawmakers must prioritize the recruitment and retention of our health care workforce, especially in long term care. AHCA, in partnership with LeadingAge, developed the Care For Our Seniors Act, a bold reform agenda for the nursing home industry that includes a recruitment and retention workforce strategy. It’s time for federal and state government step in to address this dire emergency before it’s too late.
Watch the full hearing HERE.
Read AHCA/NCAL’s statement for the record on the hearing HERE.