Community health centers face severe loss of workforce

Diving Brief:

  • Community health centers are particularly affected by the twin forces of a competitive labor market and burnout due to COVID-19.
  • A majority of health centers reported losing up to a quarter of their workforce in the past six months alone, according to a new survey by the National Association of Community Health Centers.
  • Health centers, which provide care to most low-income Americans, are losing nurses at a higher rate than any other staff. This attrition poses a direct challenge to patient care, especially as COVID-19 cases soar again amid a new variant.

Overview of the dive:

Community health centers have played a key role in the national response to the pandemic. To date, the centers have administered more than 21 million vaccines and performed more than 18 million tests for COVID-19, according to the NACHC. There is evidence that the work is paying off, as an analysis suggests there are fewer COVID-19 infections and deaths in areas where a community health center is active.

But the US network of health centers is facing the same turnover that has plagued the operations of other providers during the pandemic. More than a third of nurses surveyed in a recent survey said they planned to leave their current jobs by the end of the year, exhausted by burnout, high-stress work environments and high wages and salaries. tempting perks from other employers.

The new NACHC survey found that 68% of health centers reported a loss of workforce of up to 25% in the last six months, and 15% of health centers reported a loss of between 25% and 50%.

Those who left were mostly nurses, although other areas like administrative, behavioral health and dental staff were also hard hit. Urban and larger health centers had higher attrition rates than rural and smaller health centers, according to the February survey of more than 260 federally qualified health centers.

Wage competition from large employers in the health sector was the most common reason for staff leaving. Half of the health centers said they believed that their employees who left received salary increases of 10 to 25%.

Pandemic stress was the next most common reason for turnover.

The future of community health workers — and their preparedness to meet public health challenges — is uncertain, NACHC Interim President and CEO Rachel Gonzales-Hanson said in a statement.

“We must immediately invest in policies that will retain current health center staff, expand the pipeline of the future workforce, and foster creative community-level strategies for short- and long-term solutions,” said Gonzales-Hanson, including continued support for medical education. programs and expanding the list of billable providers in integrated care teams.

Despite billions in relief from the US bailout passed last year, community health centers — which operate on extremely thin margins — also need sustained federal funding, the NACHC argued.

Health centers were recently notified that the federal government covid-19 Uninsured program will stop accepting claims for vaccination, testing and treatment of coronavirus patients who cannot pay their medical bills, NACHC said.

This could leave health centers, which treat large numbers of uninsured, tall and dry people, without reimbursement and lead to service cuts.

In March, Congress allocated about $1.7 billion for community health centers in its omnibus spending package for fiscal year 2022, though it provided no additional COVID-19 relief. In a letter to congressional officials in late March, the NACHC called the loss of aid “troublesome” and said it would have a disproportionate impact on health centers.

Earlier this month, the Senate struck a bipartisan deal for $10 billion in additional COVID-19 relief. The agreement would not replenish the program that covers vaccination, testing and treatment for COVID-19 for uninsured people.

Maria J. Book