The Senate HELP Committee hosted its first hearing of the 118th Congress on February 16th, 2023, titled, “Examining Health Care Workforce Shortages: Where Do We Go From Here?” Under the leadership of Chairman Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-LA), this hearing discussed navigating the healthcare workforce crisis with leaders from universities and hospitals.

The witnesses agreed that the healthcare industry, educational institutions, and Congress must work together to prepare people for the health system of the future. Dr. Hildreth raised awareness that “our healthcare system is sick care, and we need to focus on prevention.” He recommends Congress expand their funding to HBCUs to reduce healthcare workforce shortages and ease the debt burden for hard working low-income students of color. According to Dr. Seoane, the two main causes for workforce shortages are barriers to education and high turnover due to burnout. Dr. Staiger iterated the need to increase education and diversify the rural nursing workforce. A diverse workforce leads to better outcomes of care.

Several Senators highlighted mental health as a priority. Senator Hassan (D-NH) raised the need for psychiatrists to respond to the opioid crisis and behavioral health crisis, expressing interest in using student loans to incentivize behavioral health specialists to work in rural areas like North Conway, New Hampshire. Senator Smith (D-MN) echoed this sentiment and has introduced a bill for this.

To address the physical and verbal abuse health care providers are experiencing, Senator Baldwin (D-WI) mentioned her Palliative Care and Hospice Act and workplace violence prevention plans as possible reforms. Senator Lujan (D-NM) highlighted that mental health care and physical health care should not be separate. While maternal health was not a prominent topic of discussion, he emphasized the importance of midwifery as they are the only form of OB-GYN care many communities have yet they are often overlooked.

Healthcare is shifting to out-patient and is working toward leveraging a home-based model, which would open more beds and involve a model of family-community care. By preventing chronic disease which disproportionately affects low-income Americans, we can lower strain on the healthcare system.

By Ava Cloghessy, Policy Intern