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Lawmakers eye education efforts to address the shortage of health care workers

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
The coronavirus pandemic as exacerbated nursing shortages at hospitals throughout the state.

Florida health officials say the number of COVID cases is continuing to trend down, but the president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association tells legislators that staffing concerns remain.

After the delta variant caused a surge of coronavirus patients in Florida, health officials say the number of cases is continuing to trend down. But Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, says staffing concerns remain.

“We had a workforce shortage prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has been like a gasoline can over that fire so the workforce shortage is now greatly exacerbated as a result of the pandemic,” Mayhew told the state Senate Committee on Health Policy on Wednesday.

Mayhew says the “stress and strain” of the pandemic led to a 25% turnover rate among hospital nurses. That number rises to 30% among critical care nurses.

Nursing homes are experiencing similar problems. 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.

Mayhew and other health care leaders are looking to lawmakers for help improving retention efforts. She told the committee that assistance might include creating better career pathways, and developing mentorships and apprenticeships.

She also suggested lawmakers take a closer look at nursing schools in the state in regards to recruitment and capacity.

Committee Chairman Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, says 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 says.

Diaz says "we probably should begin having some of those talks" with Gruters or Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, about policies that could help address staffing challenges.

Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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