Michigan health care advocates are calling on legislators and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to direct $650 million to train new workers and rebuild a talent pipeline that’s been depleted further in the COVID-19 pandemic.
A coalition of health care trade groups known as the Healthcare Workforce Sustainability Alliance today called for the funding that would support “Health Care Heroes” scholarships. The support would help pay for up to two years of schooling in a wide range of professions that have been experiencing chronic staffing shortages that have worsened in the pandemic.
Rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, along with increased volumes from pent-up demand after delayed elective procedures, have heightened stress and burnout among health care professionals, deepening staffing shortages.
The problem affects clinical and non-clinical positions at small and large hospitals in both rural and urban markets, Michigan Health & Hospital Association President and CEO Brian Peters said. The present health care staffing shortage has been the worst that Peters has seen in his 30-plus years with the MHA.
“I have never seen anything like the workforce sustainability challenge that is with us today,” Peters said today during a media briefing on the funding request. “When we look at the current reality, we know that the health care workforce is dealing with burnout. They have been dealing with a pandemic for approximately 20 months now, they’re dealing with record-high volume and occupancy rates.”
The MHA formed the Healthcare Workforce Sustainability Alliance with the Health Care Association of Michigan that represents nursing homes, the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services, the American Nurses Association of Michigan, and the Michigan Community College Association.
The funding would go toward staffing in hospitals, nursing facilities, and emergency medical services, as well as workforce training programs to grow the health care talent pool in Michigan. The money could come from the state’s general fund or out of the billions of dollars that Michigan is due to receive in federal stimulus relief funding, according to the alliance.
The staffing shortage has created difficulty arranging patient transfers from one facility to another, and some hospitals have had to delay patient medical procedures, temporarily close beds and divert ambulances elsewhere when fully occupied, Peters said.
The $650 million request “will go a long way to addressing this critical challenge,” although “there is no single silver bullet” and the response ultimately requires other action such as state and federal regulatory changes, Peters said.
“This is a real problem that we are dealing with today and, unfortunately, there is no end in sight,” he said. “Many of the staffing challenges pre-dated the pandemic and they relate to the pipeline. We aren’t training enough people in that pipeline to replace those who are leaving the field, and we see that in the hospital domain on a daily basis.”
The higher stress from the pandemic has led to health care workers leaving their profession. Some health care facilities report vacancies of 20 percent or more, according to the alliance.
Long-term care facilities and nursing homes around Michigan have lost an estimated 17 percent of their workforce, or nearly 11,000 employees, from pre-pandemic levels, said Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of Michigan. Staffing shortages have led 85 percent of long-term care facilities to limit or halt new admissions. Nearly half of the facilities in the state closed units or beds because of staffing shortages, Samuel said.
Nursing home staff “have been pushed to the brink of mental and physical exhaustion,” Samuel said.
“They have witnessed firsthand the loss and devastation caused by COVID-19, but they have persevered. They have risen to the occasion with grace and compassion, and today they need our help,” she said. “We must bring more people into the sector. Dedicated caregivers at our facilities need reinforcements.”
Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, estimates that as many as 25,000 people pursuing a community college or university degree or a certification in a clinical field would qualify for two-year scholarships through the Future Healthcare Worker Scholarship Program. The scholarships would cover a majority of costs for up to two years of training, Hansen said.
Establishing the scholarship “would be an immediate shot in the arm for the health care workforce” by encouraging people to pursue a health care profession.
“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,” he said. “There is capacity to increase enrollments in many of these programs. What’s really needed is an incentive to do that among students and to reduce some of the barriers. One of those barriers, of course, is tuition. To the extent that a tuition barrier exists, providing scholarships for these programs would allow for more enrollments.”