WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, delivered remarks during the hearing “Examining Health Care Workforce Shortages: Where Do We Go From Here?” He discussed the ongoing shortage of health care providers, including nurses, in Louisiana and around the country. He also emphasized the importance of increasing educational opportunities for health care providers and reauthorizing federal programs, like the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education program, that could help address the workforce shortage issue. Click here to watch the hearing live.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The COVID-19 pandemic strained our health care system, placing a huge burden on health care workers. As we come out of the pandemic, this hearing is an opportunity to address workforce issues. Why are there still shortages post-pandemic? Which shortages are most pressing? Understanding this should precede moving to solutions.
Doctors and hospitals in Louisiana tell me they need nurses. Speaking as a doctor who had the good fortune to work beside incredibly talented nurses for decades, nurses are essential to the health care system.
There are different things we can do, for example—“upskilling,” or increasing nursing educational opportunities, to help certified nurse’s assistants to be LPNs, the LPN to be a certificate RN, and the certificate RN to be a bachelor's RN. Perhaps federal support can encourage entry and then upskilling. I once worked with Linda, who began working in our clinic as a medical assistant. She continued her studies and earned her LPN. She continued her studies to get a BSN, then a Masters of Nursing. Eventually, she was the nurse manager in the clinic she began in as a medical assistant. The power of education transformed her life and demonstrated for her children the power of education and of delayed gratification, and oh by the way, added to the nursing workforce.
Some has to be done on a state level. In my home state of Louisiana, education requirements for nursing educators are being examined to see how this impacts the supply of nursing faculty, which in turn impacts the number of nursing students. As a physician who practiced for over three decades: a good RN can teach a nursing student no matter if she has a masters or a bachelor’s of nursing, and we need to be practical. States have to ask—what does that student need to know to effectively care for patients and whom can they learn it from?
That will be a way to remove a real choke point in terms of educating these nurses.
This Committee can and should work in a bipartisan way to address nursing shortages. But, shortages are not exclusive to nursing. My hope for this hearing is to identify other providers and areas, such as our rural communities, that also have critical workforce needs.
A study published just before the pandemic in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that physicians spent over 16 minutes per patient filling out electronic health records (or E-H-Rs). As a doctor, it’s no wonder we are seeing huge rates of physician burnout when they are spending as much time, if not more, staring at a computer screen than into the eyes of the patients they want to help.
This is something this committee can look into, understand, and address.
On a larger scale, the federal government invests billions of dollars toward health care workforce programs. We need to continue to support what’s working, understand what’s not working, and fix anything that is broken. We have to make sure that we’re not wasting the money we’re trying to productively spend.
This year, the Committee is tasked with extending mandatory funding for programs like the National Health Service Corps, which offers loan repayment and scholarships to health care providers in exchange for working in a health professional shortage area. And the Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education program, which supports the cost of training medical and dental residents in outpatient settings.
In addition, the Committee is tasked with reauthorizing the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education program, which is set to expire this year. This legislation supports the training of pediatricians and other pediatric subspecialists. Nearly half of all pediatric residents train at children’s hospitals.
It is important that funding for these programs is extended on time, in a bipartisan fashion, with the appropriate spending offsets.
Finally, I know today’s witnesses have innovative ideas on how hospitals and academic institutions can support the pipeline of health professionals. The federal government does not play the only role in seeking a solution to our current workforce shortages. I look forward to hearing the perspectives of our expert witnesses, how we bolster America’s health care workforce moving forward, and while doing so, creating greater opportunity for individual Americans.