A newly formed coalition – the Healthcare Workforce Sustainability Alliance – has released a plan more than 19 months into the pandemic calling upon Michigan’s elected officials to address the emerging crisis of a shortage of healthcare workers to provide lifesaving medical care.
The Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA) in collaboration with the Health Care Association of Michigan (HCAM), Michigan Association of Ambulance Services (MAAS), Michigan Community College Association (MCCA), and American Nurses Association of Michigan (ANA-MI) are advocating for a $650 million investment to support staffing needs in hospitals, nursing facilities, and emergency medical services and workforce training programs to grow the healthcare talent pipeline.
“Michigan healthcare workers are the essential responders to the COVID-19 pandemic and, unfortunately, the healthcare staffing shortage that existed pre-pandemic has become significantly worse in recent months,” said Brian Peters, CEO of the MHA. “Staffing at our hospitals is absolutely a crisis. With the support of our partners in the healthcare and education sectors, we are pleading with our Legislature to fund a future for the healthcare workforce that will help ensure lifesaving services are able to continue across our state.”
The Healthcare Workforce Sustainability Alliance is calling upon the Michigan Legislature to pass a $650 million supplemental to recruit and retain healthcare workers and a scholarship program to establish a workforce pipeline. The proposed Healthcare Worker Payments would be directed to healthcare front-line workers and health facility employees.
“The shortage of Michigan EMS heroes is getting worse by the day, and we desperately need more paramedics and EMTs in the field,” said Angela Madden, executive director of the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services. “The lack of training options has become a crisis for EMS and we’re proud to work with our fellow healthcare partners to help get more workers into healthcare fields quickly.”
The Future Healthcare Worker Scholarship Program would be designed to provide two years of scholarships to individuals pursuing a degree in a clinical healthcare field. The Future Healthcare Worker Scholarship Program would provide payments at qualifying institutions. Based upon estimates of eligible Michigan residents, grant amounts and years in the program, it is estimated that as many as 25,000 students would qualify for and could take advantage of the Future Healthcare Worker Scholarship Program.
“The state of our healthcare system has a direct impact on the health of our future. We need lifesaving care and transport, which means we need people able to provide those services,” said Michael Hansen, president of the MCCA. “Establishing a pipeline for these jobs by incentivizing students to go into and afford these careers is absolutely necessary to ensuring our communities stay healthy and appropriately staffed.”
Michigan hospitals have reached new record-high occupancy rates, requiring staff scheduling and capacity adjustments several times daily to preserve patient care standards. For many healthcare facilities, vacancy rates are 20% or more of their workforce. Patients experience delays of sometimes several days waiting for transport between a hospital and a nursing home, inpatient psychiatric hospital or rehabilitation facility due to the shortage of qualified paramedics. Some hospitals must regularly divert ambulances away from their emergency departments, which delays emergent care, especially in Michigan’s many rural areas.
“Working in long-term care is a calling, a fulfilling career that gives people a purpose,” said Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of HCAM. “Caregivers who have served on the front lines of a health crisis the world has not experienced in 100 years need and deserve our support. The pandemic has made an expected shortage of healthcare workers happen sooner and to a much worse degree. New admissions to skilled nursing facilities are being limited or halted because providers are taking a proactive measure to focus their care on current residents. We must address this workforce crisis to ensure our seniors have access to the care they need.”
Healthcare workforce staffing shortages existed prior to COVID-19 but have worsened and are expected to persist beyond the pandemic. Michigan must address both the short- and the long-term workforce crisis that is driving this problem before it forces even more difficult healthcare decisions. Contrary to the early support shown to healthcare workers in the beginning months of the pandemic, a 2021 survey has found that 34% of nurses reported experiencing workplace violence, which can lead to higher rates of burnout.
More detail about the Healthcare Workforce Sustainability Alliance’s $650 million plan will be available at www.mha.org as the group continues to work with policymakers.