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Healthcare Ready Initiative Reveals High Worker Losses in Underserved Communities, Urgent Need for Support

Health centers and clinics serving diverse and underserved populations experienced higher worker losses compared to other healthcare organizations, causing potential risks to the care of over 31.5 million Americans in health centers and roughly 2 million in clinics, according to recent findings from a year-long initiative ran by Healthcare Ready.

Healthcare Ready, a nonprofit organization committed to protecting the U.S. healthcare system against disasters and pandemics, recently concluded the initiative titled, Restoring the Healthcare Workforce for Equity Program (RHWE).

This initiative was funded by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, aimed to understand the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and other disaster-related threats on the healthcare workforce.

The program focused on those employed in Community Health Centers, or Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), and free and charitable clinics, regardless of their profession.

The findings shed light on the significant losses and burnout among healthcare workers, particularly those serving rural, low-income, or racially and ethnically diverse populations.

To monitor COVID’s influence on workforce trends, RHWE was comprised with a needs assessment, multiple policy briefs and training sessions.

Results not only highlighted greater shortages and burnout among healthcare workers in underserved communities but also examined the crucial role of leaders and policymakers in fostering positive workplace culture and equitable policies.

The research from the RHWE initiative found key findings that shed light on the challenges faced by healthcare workers, including:

Ongoing pandemic-related stress contributed to staff shortages in health centers and clinics, worsening burnout and potentially healthcare access disparities.

Those in U.S. counties with disproportionately greater COVID-19 cases and deaths are at an increased risk of being impacted during future natural disasters, potentially leading to worsening healthcare access disparities.

Additionally, there are ongoing discussions about the federal budget that are causing uncertainty for essential safety-net facilities, which calls for stable funding and other policies for their continued operation.

Angie Im, associate director of research and policy at Healthcare Ready, stressed the essential role of community health centers and free and charitable clinics.

“To avoid worsening healthcare disparities and health outcomes—especially in the face of increasing disasters—it’s imperative that Congress continue to provide necessary supports to meet the needs of this essential workforce.”

In light of these challengers, Healthcare Ready is actively utilizing the key findings from the RHWE initiative to support organizations and individuals in underserved communities most affected by disasters like the pandemic.

Im shared their immediate focus is on ensuring that the data reaches decision-makers and advocates working to pass federal spending bills affecting healthcare workers and community health centers.

Decision-makers can use the insights gained from the initiative to better understand communities’ vulnerabilities and risks during disasters. With this knowledge, they can ensure that necessary supports are in place to help households withstand disaster-related impacts, particularly among historically underserved communities, she said.

To address the significant losses and burnout among healthcare workers, especially those serving rural, low-income, or racially and ethnically diverse populations, Im suggests leaders and policymakers to consider the following actions and policies:

  • Vote for legislation ensuring continued funding for community health centers and public health programs.
  • Support bills like the Bipartisan Primary Care and Health Workforce Act and the Health Center Service Expansion and Provider Shortage Reduction Act to address workforce shortages and expand essential programs.
  • Prioritize improving workplace culture and diversity to foster greater health and well-being among healthcare staff.
  • Encourage investment in leaders within healthcare organizations to create supportive working environments for all staff.

“The decisions being made over the next several weeks have significant implications for healthcare access—preserving it for communities already in need, as well as expanding programs to meet growing demand for services,” Im said. “It’s easy to forget and think that the pandemic is behind us, yet, for individuals and certain communities disproportionately affected, the period navigating recovery from the past several years may take an equal amount of time to reestablish health and economic footing.”

The RHWE initiative serves as a crucial resource for understanding the challenges faced by the healthcare workforce and advocating for policies that support equitable healthcare access and disaster preparedness, she added.

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