On March 1, the American Hospital Association (AHA) submitted a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee urging Congress to consider and address the challenges the healthcare workforce is currently facing. As healthcare workers enter the third year of the pandemic, AHA likened current challenges to “a national emergency that demands immediate attention and workable solutions.”
In the letter, AHA brings attention to the enormous toll COVID-19 has had on health systems, citing “approximately 4.5 million total reported COVID-19 hospital admissions [to date], with 49% of those admissions occurring since July 1, 2021, during the Delta and Omicron surges.” In addition, hospitals are struggling to return to pre-pandemic margins given the increased expenses brought on by the pandemic. Among the figures cited is “the growth in labor expenses, which have grown nearly 13% on an absolute basis and 19.1% on a per patient basis” in 2021 compared to 2019.
“Hospitals are facing a critical shortage of workers,” AHA stresses in the letter, with “23% of hospitals reporting a critical staffing shortage to the government” and a decrease of nearly 105,000 employees in hospital staff since February 2020. Nursing specifically is a profession experiencing huge shortages, seen in the nurse turnover rate of 18.7% reported in 2020, and in the 35.8% of hospitals reporting a nurse vacancy rate of greater than 10% of their staff. “In fact, two-thirds of hospitals currently have a nurse vacancy rate of 7.5% or more,” AHA said. “This has resulted in an increased reliance on contract labor from healthcare travel staffing firms, which have been charging hospitals exorbitant rates for labor, thereby driving up expenses for hospitals and further exacerbating hospitals’ financial challenges.”
The letter cites other staggering figures related to COVID-19 deaths, increased expenses during surges, and the mental health of healthcare workers. It also highlights ways in which hospitals and health systems have supported their workforce and offers policy solutions that include more funding for nursing schools and an investigation into anticompetitive behavior from travel nurse agencies.
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