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Palm Coast Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 1 year ago

Education eyed to address health care worker shortages

Lawmakers and hospital industry leaders need to “look creatively at ways to support” expanding nursing programs, says Florida Hospital Association president and CEO Mary Mayhew.
by: Ryan Dailey The News Service of Florida

Lawmakers are mulling ways to help bolster education and training programs for nurses and other health care professionals to address an ongoing staffing crisis in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Industry leaders warned the Senate Committee on Health Policy on Wednesday, Oct. 13, that worker shortages are driving up costs and leading to employee burnout.

“Staffing has been and continues to be one of the biggest challenges,” Florida Hospital Association president and CEO Mary Mayhew told the Senate panel. “So as hospitals have the ability to bring in beds, to convert space, to convert cafeterias, to convert conference rooms -- you still have to have the nurses and the doctors to staff those beds, to meet the needs of those patients.”

Mayhew said an “indescribable” strain on medical professionals, compounded by a sharp increase in hospitalizations caused by the delta variant of the coronavirus over the summer, contributed to a 25 percent turnover rate among nurses in Florida. The turnover rate is at 30 percent among nurses in intensive care and critical care units, she said.

Florida hospitals are in a “recovery mode,” with roughly 3,200 individuals currently hospitalized with COVID-19, down from a peak of about 17,000 hospitalizations in August, Mayhew said.

But the facilities are still contending with staffing woes, she added.

And nursing homes are experiencing similar problems, according to industry leaders.

The uphill battle posed by providing services amid a staffing crunch is costing the long-term care industry nearly $1 billion annually, according to Deborah Franklin, the Florida Health Care Association's senior director of quality affairs.

“Costs per patient day are up almost $42 per day compared to the pre-pandemic time period, resulting in an additional cost to the profession of $660 million annually,” Franklin told the panel Wednesday.

Staffing has been the industry’s top cost in its response to fighting COVID-19, she said. Employee-related costs have shot up 21 percent for long-term care facilities as a result of paying overtime, contract-labor expenses and other factors, Franklin said.

“That’s an additional $300 million in direct-care expenses that facilities are experiencing on an annual basis,” she added.

Hiring difficulties also have generated competition within the health-care industry, according to Franklin.

“As you heard the hospital association talk about the staffing, we’re all fighting for the same staff because of the critical shortage,” she said.

Lawmakers on the Senate panel asked Mayhew what can be done to help alleviate the challenges. She said legislators may want to explore the state’s nursing education programs.

For example, Mayhew suggested that a review of the number of nursing-school graduates Florida hospitals seek to hire would be helpful.

“What’s the capacity in our educational system? How many (nurses) are typically graduating? What’s the gap, how many additional slots? When we talk about nursing slots, it means we need more nurse faculty. And just like hospitals are challenged to recruit nurses in this extremely competitive environment, our nursing programs similarly will be challenged to recruit,” said Mayhew, a former secretary of the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

Lawmakers and hospital industry leaders need to “look creatively at ways to support” expanding nursing programs, Mayhew said. Nursing apprenticeship programs show promise in increasing retention rates among hospital staff, Mayhew said, and adding additional career pathways to becoming a nurse also should be examined.

Committee Chairman Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, said some collaboration with another key Senate panel may be in the works as lawmakers look to chip away at the problem.

Diaz said he sees “some opportunities … to have conversations” with Senate Education Committee Chairman Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, about health care  worker shortages.

“Because on the back end of that … increasing that pipeline would allow us to resolve some of these issues. But that’s an education issue as much as it is a health care issue,” Diaz told reporters.

Diaz said he has not yet had talks with Gruters or Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican who is chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, about policies that could help address staffing challenges.

“It sounds like from the committee today that we should probably begin to have some of those talks,” Diaz said.

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