Pressure builds on Congress to act as COVID-19 spikes again

Congress has floundered for months trying to pass another major COVID-19 stimulus bill, but healthcare executives overwhelmingly want lawmakers to move forward with more relief. The last major COVID-19 bill passed in April.

Out of all the priorities healthcare providers have asked Congress to address, the Power Panel’s top four issues were funding for COVID-19 testing and tracing; money for vaccine development and distribution; liability protections for healthcare providers; and an extended suspension of the Medicare sequester.

COVID-19 cases across the country are spiking again, and executives said healthcare workforces are burned out. They are hoping that an investment in public health priorities can mitigate the pandemic and demands on their workforce.

Cathy Jacobson, CEO of Milwaukee-based Froedtert Health, said Wisconsin’s coronavirus spike has decimated staff numbers while simultaneously increasing the need to man community testing sites. Froedtert had more than 200 COVID-19 inpatients as of mid-November, and Jacobson said they had “hundreds” of staff out on any given day.

“We think testing and tracing have not been managed well,” Jacobson said. “We have to alleviate what is hitting our hospitals from the back end.”

Oostra said repeated waves of COVID-19 have caused attrition among experienced staff across the industry, while the constant pressure has led to burnout.

The American Hospital Association doesn’t collect data on how many workers are leaving the field—and doesn’t plan to add that burden on providers during a pandemic, but the association has heard anecdotal reports from health systems across the country that people are retiring early or looking for healthcare jobs that don’t involve caring for hospitalized patients, Nancy Foster, AHA’s vice president of quality and patient safety policy, told Modern Healthcare in late November.

Louisiana was an early COVID-19 hot spot, but Thomas said he is seeing similar trends of burnout among staff. “If you’re a front-line clinical worker supporting clinical operations it has been a challenging year, and there is no immediate end in sight,” Thomas said.

Thomas praised the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed investments in developing vaccines and building a distribution infrastructure, but said a new stimulus package is “crucial” to supporting a broader vaccination process.

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