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Harrisburg – July 21, 2021 – At the request of Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D- Allegheny), Sen. Wayne Fontana (D- Allegheny), Sen. Jim Brewster (D- Allegheny/Westmoreland), Sen.  Lindsey Williams (D- Allegheny), & House Representative Austin Davis (D- Allegheny), the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hybrid in person and virtual public hearing to discuss the healthcare workforce crisis in Pennsylvania. The pandemic exposed the many problems with staffing in our healthcare systems that must be addressed.

“I am extremely grateful that the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, in partnership with the incredible health care workers of SEIU, are continuing the conversation about the immediate need to address the staffing crisis in Pennsylvania healthcare settings,” Sen. Costa said. “My family was incredibly thankful for the care that my mother received when she was in a nursing home setting, and that standard of care should be afforded to every Pennsylvanian. Safe staffing levels, union protections, and livable wages are essential to addressing this workforce crisis.”

Sen. Fontana continued, “The pandemic put the gaping holes in our current healthcare system on full display. The staff in our hospital systems, our nursing homes, and our home care aides worked tirelessly before this pandemic – and were lifelines during the pandemic. We must address the pay inequities that healthcare workers face and assure that these essential workers have the workplace protections that they deserve.”

As the pandemic put a strain on health care systems across the country, staff became increasingly scarce as quarantines and infection rates rose at an alarming pace. In November 2020, approximately nine months into the pandemic, staffing shortages existed in hospitals within at least 25 states. Many employees had to choose between working and caring for their children during pandemic-induced school closures. Additionally, the fear of contracting COVID-19 or passing it to family members, the surging influx of patients and the extended work hours plagued healthcare staff across-the-board. A survey conducted by Mental Health America from June to September demonstrated 93% of healthcare workers were stressed, 85% were experiencing anxiety, 77% were frustrated, 76% were burned out and 75% felt overwhelmed.

During the hearing, nurses and health care workers discussed historic challenges they faced during the pandemic and ongoing challenges that have existed in their profession long before COVID-19 became a public health crisis. Panelists and legislatures also pointed out the correlation between improved patient outcomes and good working conditions and pay. They highlighted the need for more data to prove the benefits of good working conditions that unions like SEIU fight for.

“There is no excuse for allowing healthcare professionals – who are giving lifesaving care – to work in substandard conditions where they are not making a living wage. Good jobs create strong communities, and these workers deserve the union security, workplace protections, and comparable wages for the professionals that they are and the work that they do,” Sen. Brewster said.

“Good union jobs are shown time and again to improve the lives of individuals and improve the communities where union families live. Fighting for union security, safe staffing levels, and livable wages that our healthcare workers deserve will not only create better outcomes for patients where these workers serve – it creates stronger and more prosperous communities as a whole,” Sen. Lindsey Williams said.

“Across the country, health disparities between white and Black people have been narrowing — but the opposite is true in Allegheny County. We know why: the over-concentration of the Black community in local service occupations and in particular, healthcare. Like the manufacturing industries that preceded it, healthcare relies on understaffing and cost-cutting at the frontlines to support high executive pay, expansion and profits. This model intensifies disparities and creates worker *and* community burnout and instability. These problems cannot be solved using current managerial strategies. Healthcare systems are the perfect example of why healthcare workers need a voice on the job. Our charitable healthcare dollars are funding an unsustainable business model, and it’s time for a change,” said Silas Russell, Vice President at SEIU Healthcare PA.

“I am incredibly grateful to hold this hearing today and to continue the conversation about the need for workplace protections and union security for our healthcare professionals.  They truly were essential the past year and several months as we fought through the pandemic, but their work has been and will continue to be the keystone to ensuring high-quality patient care.  The pay, benefits, protections, and respect through safe staffing levels or our healthcare workers should absolutely reflect the lifesaving work that they do,” Sen. Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said.

Below are all who participated in today’s hearing:

  • Erin Williams, Respiratory Therapist, Allegheny General Hospital
  • Christoria Hughes, Dietary, UPMC Presbyterian
  • Kim Hitrik, Registered Nurse, West Penn Hospital
  • Katrina Rechtenwald, Registered Nurse, Allegheny General Hospital
  • Silas Russell, Vice President and Political Director, SEIU Healthcare PA
  • Theresa Brown, PhD, RN, Nurse and author of the New York TimesBestseller The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives
  • Gabriel Winant, Author, The Next Shift: the Fall of Industry and the Rise of Healthcare in the Rust Belt
  • Jeff Shook, Assistant Professor of Social Work and Law at University of Pittsburgh

Senators who attended this hearing in person and virtually included Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D- Allegheny), Sen. Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Sen. Wayne Fontana (D- Allegheny), Sen. Jim Brewster (D- Allegheny/Westmoreland), Sen. Lindsey Williams (D- Allegheny), Sen. John Kane (D- Chester/Delaware), Sen. Tim Kearney (D- Chester/Delaware), Sen. Shariff Street (D- Philadelphia), and Sen. Maria Collett (D- Bucks/Montgomery). House Members in attendance included Rep. Austin Davis (D- Allegheny), Rep. Dan Miller (D- Allegheny), and Rep. Emily Kinkead (D- Allegheny).

The full recording of this roundtable, as well as the written testimony from participants, can be found at senatormuth.com/policy. A full recording of this hearing can also be found on the PA Senate Democratic Facebook page.

 

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