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Hospital leaders and Congress brainstorm solutions to current staffing issues

Lawmakers and leaders of healthcare organizations are exploring ways to revitalize the nation’s healthcare workforce amid pandemic-related unrest that prompts many nurses, doctors and other staff to quit their jobs when hospitals need it the most.

Shortages throughout the omicron wave posed different challenges, as staff called in sick or quit their jobs altogether for better-paying traveling nurse positions. That leaves hospitals in a bind as they treat more acute COVID-19 patients and others who have postponed care throughout the pandemic.

A Brooklyn health system in New York earlier this year had about 10% of its staff sick with the virus on top of increased revenue, CEO LaRay Brown said Thursday during a webinar hosted by the ‘American Hospital Association.

Of course, it’s not just the nurses who are leaving.

“They are respiratory therapists, lab technicians, phlebotomists,” Brown added.

The staff at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., is exhausted, leading many to retire early, CEO Lori Morgan said on the AHA call. Retirements are up 20% from usual levels at the hospital, which is also seeing more early-career nurses leaving their roles than before, Morgan noted.

At the same time, the hospital spent about 32% more on traveling staff in 2020 than in 2019, while spending on traveling nurses in 2021 was up about one and a half times its spending. two years earlier, Morgan said.

Soaring rates of traveling nurses are a key part of today’s staffing challenges, and the AHA and the nursing home lobby are renewing their efforts to have the Federal Trade Commission investigate recruiting agencies. nurses for anti-competitive activity.

Members of Congress have also written to White House officials asking for a closer look at soaring traveling worker rates.

During a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., asked witnesses about rates for traveling nurses and whether agencies were taking advantage of the situation.

Nurses who leave their permanent position for traveling jobs do so for a number of reasons beyond higher pay, said Margaret Flinter, senior vice president and clinical director of the Community Health Center, during this hearing. .

“I don’t think people are likely to give up satisfying practice as a nurse to do travel nursing,” Flinter said.

“Where I have a problem is when we lose positions of experienced and valuable nurses because that position is no longer tenable, and often times that position is no longer tenable because it has been understaffed for a long time, that it lacks resources and people are just frustrated,” she said.

Recruitment agencies also claim that the salary of traveling nurses has increased exponentially, as have the demands of the job. Over the past two years, staff have had to deal with stress, burnout, overwork, physical danger and animosity from frustrated and frustrated colleagues, patients and hospital visitors.

Some states have introduced legislation to cap the rate that healthcare facilities can pay contract agencies for staffing, although no federal legislation has been introduced and the AHA does not lobby for such measures.

“We are simply asking that the administration investigate the practices of specific agencies,” Aimee Kuhlman, senior associate director of federal relations at the AHA, said on the call.

Although a short-term fix may be out of reach, the AHA submitted a statement to the HELP subcommittee with some policies that could help address longer-term shortages.

These include lifting the cap on Medicare-funded physician residencies and bolstering support for nursing schools, faculty, scholarships and loan forgiveness.

Hospitals and their lobbies are also pushing for expedited visas for highly skilled foreign nurses to work in the United States, as well as funding to help providers cover the cost of increased staffing.

“How can we overcome this? Sen. Mike Braun, R-Imd., asked during Thursday’s hearing.

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