State lawmakers are considering more than $1.2 billion in additional funding to help health care providers overburdened by the current COVID-19 surge and other patients.
The supplemental funding approved today by the House Appropriations Committee includes $300 million for a health care recruitment and retention fund to begin addressing an acute worker shortage that the pandemic has worsened.
The supplemental appropriations bill, House Bill 5523, now goes to the full House for consideration and “provides vital funding for healthcare workers who have spent the past 21 months responding to a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic,” Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said in a statement.
“A healthcare workforce shortage existed prior to the pandemic and the pandemic has only made it worse. Today’s funding appropriation is a crucial step towards recognizing existing healthcare workers and providing hospitals with resources to improve recruitment and retention,” Peters added. “As this bill moves through the legislative process, we will continue to work with elected officials to express the importance of this funding to the healthcare workforce, who go to work every day to ensure our communities have access to care. Considering the current COVID-19 surge, this funding can’t come soon enough.”
In testimony last week to the House Appropriations Committee, Trinity Health Michigan Chief Human Resources Officer Ane McNeil described how “front-line caregivers are worn out and burned out. Workers are struggling with work-life balance, resilience, and pandemic fatigue.” That has led to higher turnover rates and increases in open positions at Trinity Health Michigan, which operates eight hospitals in the state, including Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids and Mercy Health Muskegon.
Job vacancies at Trinity Health Michigan have increased in the pandemic by 48 percent to 3,000 open positions statewide, and 60 percent for registered nurses, McNeil said. The health system, which employs 28,000 people, has 1,000 open RN positions.
Trinity Health Michigan has put in more than $100 million for workforce programs over 18 months, including salary and wage increases; referral, retention and sign-on bonuses; and employee recognition awards, McNeil said.
“However, these measures are not fully sufficient to address the workforce shortages currently faced. While Trinity Health Michigan will continue to look for ways to invest in our people, we are asking for your continued support and partnership,” McNeil told lawmakers. “With your support we can focus on reinventing Michigan’s Workforce Development; pipeline growth, upskilling and reskilling workers; investing in educational programs and providing funding to employers and academic institutions; ensuring our healthcare-givers begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Part of the present staffing crisis stems from travel nursing agencies paying high wages that are hiring away nurses “and gouging employers and we are challenged with staffing to care for our patients. The risk is limiting services that would otherwise be available to the community,” McNeil said.
Trinity Health Michigan uses more than 300 contract nursing staff at its Michigan hospitals, CEO Rob Casalou said. For nurses who staff ICUs, the Catholic health system has been paying the staffing agencies up to $200 an hour, he said.
Hospitals have little choice but to pay the “unbelievable rates” for the contract staff, he added.
“It’s either that or you start shutting things down or you start having unsafe conditions, and you just can’t allow that to happen,” Casalou said. “We want to get off of that, so we’re hiring and trying to hold on to who we have.”
According to a House Fiscal Agency analysis, the supplemental appropriations bill also includes:
- $50 million for eight COVID-19 early treatment sites across the state.
- $59.4 million for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services “to the greatest extent possible, to assist in administering monoclonal treatments.”
- $367.3 million to expand epidemiology and lab capacity. $100 million “would assist private businesses with procuring COVID-19 tests for staff that have received an exemption from any government-mandated COVID-19 vaccine mandate, while $117 million would assist eligible COVID-19 early treatment sites with procuring COVID-19 tests.”
- $300.8 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to purchase COVID-19 tests that the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators can distribute to eligible schools, or to reimburse schools who buy tests directly.