Healthcare Workforce Challenges Remain, Despite Legislative Focus
From increased reimbursement rates to new regulations for staffing agencies, lawmakers set their sights on bolstering the healthcare workforce during the recently concluded spring legislative session.
?Still, more needs to be done to address the crisis, which is likely to challenge the healthcare system beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, panelists said Wednesday.
“Everything that we passed this session is directly and inextricably linked with workforce and improving it and supporting it,” Matt Hartman, executive director of the Illinois Health Care Association, said during a panel hosted by Health News Illinois in Chicago.
At the top of the list is a long sought-after bill reforming how nursing homes are paid, which includes funding for staff increases, according to Hartman. He also praised federal relief dollars directed toward boosting wages and a bill requiring more transparency and accountability for nurse staffing agencies - a pair of points echoed by Illinois Health and Hospital Association CEO A.J. Wilhelmi.
“(Workforce) is the first, second and third priority of systems,” Wilhelmi said. “The challenges are significant.”
Lawmakers also increased rates for mental health workers, made it easier for providers to return to work and incentivized businesses to hire individuals recovering from a mental health illness.
“We really were able to do a top to bottom expansion of capacity for the entire behavioral health workforce,” said House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago. “It's a once in a generation investment.”
Despite the efforts, challenges persist, panelists said.
“Our sector has bounced back the least of any sector,” Hartman said. “Nationwide, we are nearly 400,000 jobs below where we were prior to the pandemic.”
Hartman said he'll closely watch the implementation of the rate reform bill, as well as legislation creating a temporary nurse assistant program, which he said helped providers at the beginning of the pandemic before it expired.
Wilhelmi highlighted a bill that's failed in several sessions that would enter Illinois into a nurse licensure compact that makes it easier to work across borders in nearly three-fourths of states.
He said providers still aren't in the clear, pointing to a southern Illinois health system that may have to shut down its neonatal intensive care unit, the only one in the region, because of staffing woes.
“If we don't have the staff then there are some really difficult decisions that have to be made about what services can we continue to provide, what services might need to be left off or closed,” he said.