Policy Hearing: Testifiers detail issues affecting health care staffing

Hearing hosted by state Rep. Venkat, emergency physician

McCANDLESS, Jan. 26 – Physicians, hospital administrators, nurses, and paramedics detailed their numerous staffing challenges at the House Democratic Policy Committee hearing held Thursday at McCandless Town Hall. 

Rep. Arvind Venkat, an emergency physician and the first physician to serve in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly in about 60 years, had the unique ability to host a policy hearing on the Health Care Staffing Crisis – an issue he experiences firsthand.

“While the pandemic did not cause these issues, it crystalized the problem in a way where the public became acutely aware of its importance,” Venkat said. “Unfortunately, no silver bullet – or magical solution – exists to fix this complicated problem. As we saw when we peeled back layers of the issue today, addressing one issue often calls for the need to find a solution to several more related issues. No one regulation, no one piece of legislation will quickly solve the staffing crisis, but greater understanding and vigilant work at the state level could help alleviate some of these challenges.”

The hearing marked the House Democratic Policy Committee’s first event in Allegheny County this year, signaling the first of three weeks of hearings, roundtable discussions and tours in Allegheny County.

“We are fortunate to have someone with Rep. Venkat’s vast background in the House as well as his willingness to host a Democratic Policy Committee hearing,” Bizzarro said. “This hearing highlighted numerous issues that need addressed, including the frightening and sometimes overlooked rise in violence toward health care professionals – the very people we need to be protecting and supporting.”

Testifiers highlighted several of the challenges facing Pennsylvania’s health care workforce, including the limited supply of workers and overwhelming demand for health care access – at a time when an aging population needs access. 

Just a few of the issues touched on by testifiers included:

  • The need for more bedside nurses.
  • The ability of nurses to leave bedside care for higher-paying jobs. 
  • The need for more qualified health care educators in order to train students to be nurses.
  • The need for ideal nurse-to-patient ratios.
  • The potential challenges with strict nurse-to-patient ratios.
  • The bottlenecks and stresses created by patients staying longer at hospitals because nursing home and elder care facilities are at capacity due in part to those facilities’ dramatic job losses.
  • The reimbursement issues when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.  

“We couldn’t possibly touch on all the issues affecting health care staffing today, but this hearing offered a chance for lawmakers and members of the public to understand the complexity of the problems,” said Rep. Bridget Kosierowski, who spent more than 25 years in the health care sector and is a registered nurse. “Real change will only come about if we methodically address the root causes of these numerous issues.” 

Submitted testimony from Thursday’s hearing can be found at https://bit.ly/Policy12623 and more information about the Policy Committee can be found at https://www.pahouse.com/policy.