Michigan healthcare groups seek $650M in public funds to combat staffing shortages

The executive director of the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services said the state needs more EMTs and paramedics as "quickly as possible"


Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

LANSING, Mich. — An alliance of prominent Michigan health care organizations wants the state Legislature to provide $650 million to counter staffing shortages by creating a pipeline of future employees and potentially providing direct payments to current workers.

The Michigan Health & Hospital Association, which advocates on behalf of hospitals, and the Health Care Association of Michigan, which represents nursing homes, took part in a news conference Thursday to unveil the request.

An alliance of Michigan healthcare organizations, including the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services, wants the state Legislature to provide $650 million to counter staffing shortages.
An alliance of Michigan healthcare organizations, including the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services, wants the state Legislature to provide $650 million to counter staffing shortages.

A portion of the $650 million would go to establishing a scholarship program for those seeking careers in the health care field.

Other dollars would go toward recognizing current health care workers. Ruthanne Sudderth, spokeswoman for the hospital association, said the new coalition is "exploring options" for direct payments to workers.

"This is a real problem that we are dealing with today and, unfortunately, there is no end in sight," said Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association.

Health care leaders said their industry faces an aging workforce, a lengthy fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and a wave of early retirements. Meanwhile, the state isn't training enough people to replace those leaving the field, Peters said.

Hospital workers are also experiencing burnout and record high patient volumes, he said. There are currently about 2,200 individuals hospitalized in Michigan with COVID-19 — a number that's been trending upward for months. Michigan reported its first coronavirus cases 20 months ago in March 2020.

"I have never seen anything like this," Peters said of the staffing challenges.

Michigan skilled nursing facilities have lost about 17% of their workforce, said Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of Michigan. Nearly half of the nursing facilities have closed units or beds because of the staffing shortages, she said.

Angela Madden, executive director of the Michigan Association of Ambulance Services, said the state needs more emergency medical technicians and paramedics as "quickly as possible."

The request from the health care organizations came as Michigan lawmakers are contemplating how to handle a budget surplus and a rush of COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government.

After approving the state's current budget, which took affect Oct. 1, the Legislature had roughly $10 billion in additional money that could be included in a future supplemental spending plan. About $7 billion of that cash is leftover federal relief funds.

The proposed scholarship program would defray the costs of training and education at qualified institutions, said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association. He said the program would cover the majority of expenses for up to two years of education.

The alliance didn't provide specific details for how all of the $650 million would be spent under its request. The group wants to maintain some flexibility as it works with the state Legislature, Sudderth said.

Peters pushed back on the idea that vaccine mandates had played a role in staffing shortages at hospitals. The problems predated the mandates, he said. The requirements that some health care workers get vaccinated against COVID-19 have had a "very minimal" impact, he told reporters.

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(c)2021 The Detroit News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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