Supporting the Health Care Workforce

High-quality care can’t happen without talented teams of health care professionals. To meet Pennsylvanians’ health care needs now and into the future, we must make a persistent and sustained effort to grow and support the health care workforce. 

The Health Care Workforce is in Crisis

Health care workforce shortages across Pennsylvania and the nation were approaching a crisis even before the pandemic. An aging population means more health care professionals are retiring just as demand for care is increasing. There is not enough infrastructure in place to recruit, educate, and train the next generation of health care workers who will be needed to care for Pennsylvanians.

The COVID-19 pandemic intensified these challenges, increasing burnout among health care workers and accelerating retirements. Workforce shortages and rising violence and abuse targeting health care workers has further compounded the strain on hospital teams.

Pennsylvania’s Workforce Shortages are Among the Most Severe

There is a national health care workforce shortage but the challenges in Pennsylvania are among the most severe.

A 2021 report ranked Pennsylvania’s shortage of nurses the worst in the nation and the commonwealth’s shortages of nursing support staff and mental health professionals third most severe. Among the commonwealth’s 67 counties, 63 are entirely or partially primary care health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) and 53 are entirely or partially mental health HPSAs.

Infographic showing Pennsylvania's ranking among states for workforce shortages; worst for registered nurses, 3rd worst for mental health professionals, 3rd worst for nursing support staff

High Vacancy Rates

HAP’s November 2022 survey of Pennsylvania hospitals found that vacancy rates for many hospital staff positions increased significantly from 2019. Vacancy rates averaged more than 30 percent for many key positions that make up patient care teams.

Infographic showing vacancy rates for Pennsylvania hospital staff; 53% nurse anethetists, 42% medical assistants, 33% respiratory therapists, 32% nursing support staff, 32% nurse practitioners, 31% registered nurses

Growing Pennsylvania’s Health Care Workforce

HAP—led by its Health Care Talent Task Force—has developed comprehensive policy recommendations to serve as a roadmap for growing and supporting Pennsylvania’s health care talent. This roadmap builds on the task force’s initial recommendations issued during January 2020. 

HAP A Roadmap for Growing Pennsylvania's Health Care Talent
A Roadmap for Growing Pennsylvania's Health Care Talent
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HAP’s first and most fundamental recommendation is to make growing the health care workforce a priority by creating Health Care Workforce Council, led by a chief health care talent officer, within the governor’s office. Through this council, the administration, General Assembly, and the health care community would work collaboratively to:

  • Prioritize health care talent infrastructure by making it easier for clinicians to get licensed and credentialed and collecting data to inform policymakers about health care workforce needs
  • Support health care workers by making health care education more affordable and accessible, promoting health careers, promoting diversity within the health care workforce, developing career pathways, offering incentives for health care professionals to work as educators and preceptors, and making health care careers more desirable
  • Strengthen the health care community by reducing red tape, encouraging innovation, advancing telehealth, and enabling providers to focus more on patient care

Supporting Safe Workplaces

Rising violence and abuse is adding to the strain on health care workers. Violence and abuse should not be part of a health care professional’s job and are not acceptable.

HAP supported state reforms enacted during 2020 that made it a felony to assault a health care worker and protected health care workers’ identities by allowing their last names to be omitted from ID badges. At the federal level, HAP supports the SAVE Act, introduced by U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean (D-4), which would make assaulting a health care worker a federal crime and provide grants to help hospitals improve safety.

HAP Contacts

For more information, contact Jeffrey Bechtel, senior vice president, health economics and policy; or Mary Marshall, senior director of workforce & professional development. Media inquiries should be directed to Liam Migdail, director, media relations.

HAP News

September 22, 2023

Workforce Solutions Spotlight—Penn State Health

Penn State Health and HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, announced a new partnership to offer fully funded educational opportunities for aspiring and current health care professionals.