Many healthcare providers, consultants to the healthcare industry, and other observers have been attempting to gain an understanding of the changes to the healthcare delivery systems and the changes in costs incurred by healthcare providers, which may have been coming but were stimulated by the COVID 19 PHE. There is little doubt that nursing costs, like other healthcare costs, incurred by healthcare providers will never return to pre-COVID-19 PHE levels.
The healthcare industry has been significantly impacted, in many geographies and among many provider types, by an increasing shortage of healthcare professionals; however, the shortage, especially in nursing personnel, has significantly increased patient care costs. Increasingly, nursing personnel are leaving the direct patient care delivery system. Sign-up bonuses, service continuation bonuses, increased salary and hourly rates, and contracting with staffing agencies, including travel nursing agencies, has become the norm if the healthcare providers want to maintain sufficient personnel to provide patient services. Currently, many providers cannot, given revenue constraints, even consider contracting with outside agencies for nursing personnel due to the rates being demanded by these outside agencies. Provider Relief Funding (stimulus monies) and PPP loans, which were eventually forgiven, proved critical for many providers during 2020 and 2021. Of course, the government cannot continue to make this funding available indefinitely.
A bipartisan letter signed by lawmakers across the country, located here, is seeking an investigation into potential inflated rates for nursing personnel, thereby taking advantage of the current shortage of nursing personnel which has been compounded by the Public Health Emergency. The letter seeks to determine if inflated rates charged by nurse staffing agencies violate consumer protection laws.
Of course, nurses have been, and continue to be, critical to the delivery of healthcare services regardless of whether they provide services in hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, hospitals, or other healthcare environments. Many nurses and other healthcare professionals will take part in the United Nurses March scheduled for May 12, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
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There is little doubt that the shortage of healthcare professionals will not be eliminated soon, regardless of the efforts undertaken. Nursing costs, and other healthcare costs, will continue to rise even after the COVID-19 PHE, and, accordingly, receive increased attention. Healthcare payors, including Medicare and Medicaid, will have to increase or alter reimbursement to healthcare providers to cover the increased cost of services or witness a reduction in the quality of care to patients. Employers and employees face higher health insurance premiums to offset the increased cost of healthcare services provided to health plan enrollees.