Healthcare workers warn Congress the pandemic is still causing staff shortages

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While many U.S. communities are shifting toward normalcy with pandemic restrictions relaxing, health care workers told members of Congress this week the COVID-19 pandemic is still taking a major toll on its workforce.

“We keep showing up, but our work keeps getting tougher,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Rhode Island Hospital.

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Dr. Ranney shared her experience with a House subcommittee to shed light on the on-going health care worker shortages plaguing hospitals and doctors’ offices around the country.

“Only a few weeks ago, a nurse in charge of my emergency department told me she was ten nurses short for the evening and therefore forced to reduce services,” said Ranney. “She said, ‘I’ve been begging people to stay all day long, offering double time and double incentives, but the nursing staff is too burnt out.’”

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Health care workers urged Congress to pump more funding into recruitment and training for the health care industry to help combat worker shortages.

“While there is no one solution to these workforce challenges, greater investment in training of health care professionals from physicians and nurses to technicians as well as efforts to diversify our health care workforce are absolutely critical,” said Dr. Laura Riley, an obstetrician and Gynecologist-in-Chief at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

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Witnesses also called for more funding for hospitals.

“We need to address issues facing travel nursing agencies,” said Tawanda Austin, the Chief Nursing Officer at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta. “While these offer the chance for hospitals to bolster their workforce during surges, their costs have risen to unsustainable levels. I urge Congress to take action so that hospitals remain financially viable and avoid the risk of having to reduce services or even worse, avoid the risk of shutting their doors.”

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Health care workers also called on lawmakers to invest in more mental health support for staff.

“Nurses have shared stories of being verbally attacked for implementing COVID-19 safety restrictions,” said Austin. “Patients’ families have become frustrated and distressed taking their emotions out on nurses and workplace violence is at an all-time high.”

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