Florida’s House Health and Human Services Committee held an interim committee hearing on Oct. 19 to address health care staffing challenges facing the state.
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Of primary concern for several of the health officials that participated in the meeting was inadequate staff pay, the workforce pipeline, and regulatory roadblocks.
Health officials stressed the increasing need for skilled staff and zeroed in on the impact staffing agencies have had on their organizations.
Tracy Greene, vice president of operations at Southern Health Care Management, said:
“Prior to COVID, my company employed approximately 4,500 employees to care for our residents … When COVID first hit, we lost several hundred employees due to childcare issues, fear of COVID and bringing it home to families, and we also lost many employees to staffing agencies as well.”
Greene said better salaries offered by staffing agencies are one factor explaining why people are deciding to jump ship.
“The staffing agencies have unfairly taken advantage of the general labor shortage in the market by enticing away our center staff with offers of higher pay and then selling the staff back to us at a much higher cost,” she said. “Sometimes as much as 100% over what our agency is paying the staff.”
Other health officials were in a similar boat.
Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, explained the impact these agencies have had on her organization.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were facing a workforce shortage,” she said. “Among our nurses, one in four have left their positions over the past year, and 30% of the critical care nurses [have left as well].”
Better pay was a motivating factor behind these departures, she said.
“There are nurses who have left to pursue opportunities with contracted staffing agencies for a significantly higher pay either in-state or out-of-state,” she said.
According to Greene, the demands will only increase.
“As the aging population continues to grow, the demand will only intensify.”
Provider – educator partnerships
One point raised repeatedly during the committee meeting was the importance of developing provider-educator partnerships and utilizing these alliances to meet staffing demands.
Aurelio Fernandez III, CEO of the Memorial Healthcare System, said:
“We recommend, as a health care system, a partnership with colleges and educators to expand the faculty base.”
According to Fernandez, increasing the faculty base will help expedite the education and graduation of future nurses.
“We do not have enough faculty to help graduate [medical students] towards meeting the health care demands of the future.”
He connected staffing shortages to increasing stress levels and worker burnout. Consequently, many nurses have opted to become travel nurses for higher salaries.
“The stress level that we as health care providers are facing has also added to folks wanting to do travel nursing because the pay could be three times as much,” he said.
During pre-pandemic times, his health care system ran at a 13% turnover rate. Since the start of the pandemic, he’s now on track for a 22% turnover rate.
Some health care officials pointed to the lack of workforce resources for nurses seeking additional training.
Steven Bennett, a workforce development manager for the Florida Association of Community Health Centers (FACHC), highlighted the disparity in training costs as a contributor to staffing shortages.
“The credential and regulatory components are increasingly cost-prohibitive for individuals,” he said.
“If we’re looking at a medical assistant or a dental assistant, you can see gaps in the cost for training ranging from $7,000 for a program to $20,000 for a program.”
According to Bennett, FACHC has launched apprenticeship programs to help current employees in non-medical positions who might want to make the switch.
“We are building [an apprenticeship program] right now with dental assisting. We are going to go into the community, find our recruits for that program, start them with no training, give them a living wage, and do a 15-month apprenticeship program that will get them a significant wage by the end of those 15 months,” he said.