(The Center Square) – Health care officials in North Carolina are calling on the state to help address the labor shortage among health professionals in the state.
Steve Lawler, president and CEO of the North Carolina Health Care Association, said the labor shortage existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, but for the past two years hospitals have been overwhelmed. daily by an influx of patients.
“What we see today is personnel involved in a daily mass casualty count every day for two years,” Lawler said.
Lawler was among a group of health care officials who testified Tuesday before the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services. The panel also heard testimony from North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Kody Kinsley and other NCDHHS officials.
Kinsley told lawmakers that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the vacancy rate at state facilities to rise. He said that before the pandemic, the vacancy rate was between 15% and 20%. Now it’s 30%, Kinsley said.
Lawler said the current turnover rate at the state’s 130 hospitals is 18%. He said before the pandemic it was between 8% and 12%. North Carolina is short of 10,000 nurses. Lawler predicts the shortage could increase to 12,000 nurses or up to 23,000 nurses.
Lawler asked the panel to consider spending more at public universities and colleges to streamline more medical professionals into the workforce.
“We are fortunate that North Carolina has some of the best educational platforms in the country,” Lawler said.
North Carolina is home to Duke University, Wake Forest University, and the University of North Carolina.
NCDHHS Deputy Secretary Tara Myers said the situation in nursing homes is “aggravated by many factors.”
Myers said the work is physically, mentally and emotionally draining, and direct caseworkers typically have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Lawmakers provided direct care workers with $15-an-hour wages and $133 million in bonuses of up to $2,000 per worker in the biennial budget, but Myers said that was not sufficient.
In addition to higher salaries and more bonuses, Myers called on lawmakers to review regulatory requirements and create higher education pathways for direct care workers.
“It’s no secret that the direct care workforce has some of the toughest jobs. Often they live in poverty and depend on public assistance,” Myers said. “Their level of education is sometimes lower. This could be partly due to the fact that they have to work several jobs and they do not have the possibility of going to higher education.”