With COVID cases spike, Michigan seeks solutions to healthcare worker shortage

This article is part of Health, a series on how Michigan communities are rising to meet health challenges. It is made possible by funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

As COVID-19 cases reach record highs, Michigan does not have enough healthcare workers. Four Michigan hospitals had to call on the National Guard for personnel assistance.

“Today we have 875 hospital beds with fewer staff than a year ago. We have lost so many frontline caregivers that we can now only staff a certain number. [of beds] this is much less than what we had earlier in the pandemic, ”said Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Hospital and Health Association (MHA). “It causes all kinds of problems for the Michiganders.”
Brian Peters.
In response, the new Alliance for the Sustainability of the Healthcare Workforce (HWSA) calls for the state to make a $ 650 million investment to meet staffing needs in hospitals, nursing homes, emergency medical services and workforce training programs. The HWSA includes the MHA, the Health Care Association of Michigan, the Michigan Ambulance Services Association (MAAS), the Michigan Association of Community Colleges, and Michigan Association of American Nurses (ANA-MI). Their proposed investment includes in particular a “Future Healthcare Worker Scholarship Program” which would offer two-year scholarships to people pursuing studies in the fields of clinical health care.

A combination of factors has brought the labor shortage to its current state of crisis. A smaller workforce is not only dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients, but also playing a catch-up role by caring for people who have delayed seeking treatment for fear of contracting the disease. sickness.

“Across the healthcare system, whether it is skilled nursing facilities or emergency transport, they are grappling with significant problems in terms of staff shortages, especially during this current wave of crisis. COVID, ”said Peters. “It created a real crisis.”

Nursing shortage “a national crisis”

According to Julia Stocker Schneider, president of ANA-MI, nursing has been hit hardest by the shortage of manpower in the health sector. She notes that even before the pandemic, projections predicted that the United States would face a shortage of 510,000 nurses by 2030.
Julia Stocker Schneider.
“These are linked to an aging nursing workforce, with the retiring baby boom nurse population,” says Stocker Schneider. “At the same time, we have this aging population with more chronic diseases and more health care needs. On top of that, there is a shortage of nursing teachers. Many of the teachers are also older.

A survey published by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post in April 2021 found that 62% of frontline healthcare workers say stress from COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health. 55% said they felt exhausted and 49% felt anxious. Three in ten frontline healthcare workers said they had considered leaving their profession.

“The exhaustion, angst and fear that healthcare workers have experienced while treating COVID patients over the past 29 months…” They are getting more and more tired and worried that things will only get worse. The quality of care suffers. The shortage of nurses who are so tired and emotionally exhausted creates mistakes. It is a very scary thing for nurses … to be in a situation where they could make a mistake . There’s a lot at stake, both their licenses and the possibility that they could harm someone they’re trying to care for. “

Labor shortages felt across health care

Peters says the field of nursing is “at the forefront” in discussions of the health care workforce shortage, but there is also a serious shortage of clinical staff.

One of these shortages of non-clinical labor is emergency medical transport. The land is now loses 20 to 30% of its workers per year. Retirement remains one factor, but the hardships caused by the pandemic are another. Additionally, COVID-19 has interrupted emergency medical technician (EMT) training for an extended period. And paramedics are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than many other healthcare workers.

“When paramedics transport patients with COVID, they do so in a six-by-eight box with no ventilation,” says Angela Madden, executive director of MAAS. “As our hospitals fill up, the time these patients spend with EMT has increased. It’s absolutely scary.”
Angela Madden.
Madden explains that when hospitals reach maximum capacity, emergency department patients wait longer to be admitted to the limited number of rooms. Paramedics must wait until emergency services have room for the patients they are transporting. This, in turn, reduces the availability of ambulances to get back on the road to serve other patients.

“This absolutely exacerbates the problem of the EMS [emergency medical service] perspective. Because the emergency services are understaffed, it takes a lot longer for the ambulance teams, ”says Madden. “They have to wait with the patients until emergency department staff can transfer them. It trickles. Many discharged patients require ambulance transportation home. It becomes a vicious cycle. “

“They’re worked to the bone. They’re tired. And that’s not inherently safe,” says Madden. “MAAS is asking for a substantial investment in EMS education through grant opportunities so that EMS agencies can offer their own school or school support and pay overhead costs.”

Additional MAAS solutions for increasing Michigan EMTs and Paramedics include increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates and private insurance for ambulance services.

Companies providing these services cannot raise wages unless this happens. Michigan leaders have prioritized Financing of the SME in their budget for fiscal year 2022, which will help agencies increase EMS staff salaries by increasing Medicaid reimbursements.

Other strategies include allowing EMTs and paramedics to start work as soon as they are qualified, rather than having to wait long periods of time to get licensed, and allowing EMTs to become EMTs. paramedics through on-the-job training and experience rather than requiring education. -based learning.

“It’s a very difficult job. But it is extremely gratifying to know that as a paramedic you are there for this patient and their family. When they’re having the worst day of their life, it’s important that you are at your best. day, ”says Madden. “It certainly takes its toll, but there are always those shining moments. “

Dealing with a workforce crisis

Nurses, paramedics and paramedics aren’t the only healthcare workers in short supply. Shortages of non-clinical staff – cafeteria workers, guards, billing staff, housekeeping and security – also prevent hospitals from operating at full capacity.

“We hear time and time again from our members, both rural and urban, that they are also experiencing a shortage of these non-clinical staff, so much so that it has created a real backlog,” said Peters.

There could be good news to address Michigan’s healthcare workforce shortage in the near term. Ahead of the recess, the Michigan House of Representatives passed Bill 5523 with strong bipartisan support. If passed by the Michigan Senate, the law will establish $ 300 million in new funding to address the healthcare workforce shortage. In addition to supports for current healthcare workers, the legislation addresses what Peters calls “pipeline problems” – that is, encouraging more people to choose careers in healthcare. Peters also has additional strategies in mind.

At the federal level, he says revised immigration policy could make it easier for nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and other health professionals in other countries to meet the needs of Michigan and the United States.

“It can follow a very specific protocol where we are sure these people are well qualified to provide high quality care,” said Peters. “We have to break down some of these barriers, these roadblocks that make it a very difficult and long process.”

At the state level, Peters would like Michigan community colleges to be allowed to offer traditional four-year nursing education programs and for the state to join the Multi-State Nursing License Agreement (NLC), which allows nurses to practice in other NLC states without having to obtain additional licenses. Indiana and Ohio both have enacted NLC legislation.

This backlog can force Michigan hospitals to not only postpone elective or elective procedures, but even to refuse new arrivals of ambulances.

“We need more people in health care, not just here and now to deal with this immediate crisis,” concludes Peters. “We know, based on demographic realities, that we will also need more healthcare workers in the long term.”

A freelance writer and writer Estelle Slootmaker is happiest writing about social justice, wellness and the arts. She is the development news editor for Fast growing medium and L’Arbre Amigos chairs, Wyoming City Tree Commission. His greatest achievement is his five incredible adult children. You can contact Estelle at [email protected] or www.constellations.biz.

Main photo by Adobe Stock. All other photos courtesy of the Subjects.

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