From The President’s Desk
Will More Money Overcome Healthcare Headwinds?
On the heels of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ 2021 National Health Expenditure projections, economist David Cutler argued there’s nothing wrong with spending more on healthcare if we’re happy with what we get.
Therein lies where spending and satisfaction diverge for many Americans – many of them right here in Pennsylvania. To put a finer point on it, spending more money on healthcare continues to drive health inequities across communities, waste throughout the system is pervasive, and medical errors continue to plague healthcare institutions of all sizes. Couple those tornado-like winds with a significantly challenged workforce development effort alongside “doing things the same way except we’re throwing more money at it,” is a recipe for insanity.
At the Healthcare Council, our members – from acute, post-acute, IDD and behavioral health facilities – all face similar issues and, although the physical size and checkbooks of the various organizations differ, the impact is the same relative to those challenges.
Everyone’s always complaining about the weather, but no one is doing anything about it.
Everywhere you go these days now that the pandemic seems to be in our rear-view mirror, restaurants are short-staffed, bars are closing early, and grocery store shelves remain thin. While media attention over the recent year has focused on the worker shortage – termed The Great Resignation – with the nation’s “quit rate” reaching a 20-year high near the end of 2021. A recent Pew Research Center survey, for example, found low pay (63%), a lack of opportunities for advancement (63%) and feeling disrespected (57%) at work were the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year.
This kind of challenge is especially egregious for the healthcare industry. A lack of healthcare workers puts patients at risk. How can it not? That’s why the Healthcare Council is embarking on new initiatives to help its members address the operational and financial challenges associated with workforce development. For example, paying employees more with less money because of reduced reimbursements, such as is now cutting its way through the nursing and elder care facilities across the Commonwealth, can only pour salt into the wound.
To be sure, healthcare always had a workforce problem. COVID-19 simply exacerbated it. Nurses and other clinical staff were always stretched thinly and always under pressure. The pandemic simply shined a light on it for all to see.
On another part of the stage, a light is also being shone on a societal, cultural and economic catastrophe, which was decades in the making: the lack of health equity across far-flung rural communities and among low-income households. Maternal healthcare, particularly among black and brown women, is facing a crisis of historic proportions. Take, for example, the CDC said in 2020, 861 women died from maternal causes in the U.S., and black women were three-times more likely to die vs. white women. Care is not cookie-cutter. And, our healthcare institutions are facing even more pressure to deliver the right care during an era when they are experiencing the largest gap in reimbursement and cost of care among Medicaid patients.
What Can We Do?
For starters, together, we can begin by reimagining the way healthcare is delivered by better leveraging the use of technology (e.g., Fitbits for low-income communities to help folks monitor their own health), working collaboratively across various types of healthcare organizations instead of in “service” silos and, perhaps the best – and easiest – thing we can do, is to work outside of the healthcare bubble with dissimilar industries where different thinking is encouraged and can be applied to finding elusive solutions.
To be clear, Healthcare Council members – and their employees – put their feet on the floor every day to enhance care and improve the lives of their friends, families and neighbors. Their good intentions are not the reason why our healthcare system is inefficient and inequitable.
We must go on this journey together, to ask tough questions and provide difficult answers to construct the future of healthcare, which in just a couple of years will harness 20% of our nation’s gross domestic product.
As the new president of the Healthcare Council, I am excited about the opportunity and equally enthusiastic for the staff as we work to transform the future of care with our members. With lives at stake, there is no time to wait.
– Nick Vizzoca, President, Healthcare Council of Western Pennsylvania