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Staffing Shortages Challenge Rural Health Care

Health care summit identifies strains, opportunities for rural providers

October 20, 2021

Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals are facing significant staffing shortages, affecting their ability to care for patients with COVID-19 and other conditions.

On Wednesday, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania hosted a rural policy summit identifying the opportunities and challenges for the state’s rural hospitals.

Hospital speakers included Thomas Kurtz, president and CEO of Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber, and Dr. Omrana Pasha-Razzak, attending physician, division of hospital medicine, and professor of medicine and public health sciences at Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine.

Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals serve a critical role in their communities, caring for patients who tend to be older, have more underlying health conditions, and who may struggle to access nearby care. The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, but Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals remain committed to quality care, Kurtz said. 

“I think most of these small community hospitals pride themselves on the quality they provide,” he said.

The panelists discussed the following topics:

  • Staffing shortages:  Rural hospitals are facing capacity strains during the pandemic. Some of the challenges pertain to staffing, with workers retiring or transitioning to roles with temporary staffing agencies
  • Potential solutions:  Legislation allowing nurse practitioners to practice to the full extent of their licenses may assist in these staffing shortages. Easing licensing barriers for nursing students and foreign medical graduates is another potential priority, the panelists said
  • Broadband:  Expanding broadband in Pennsylvania could help more rural Pennsylvanians access telehealth services
  • Behavioral health:  Helping patients obtain medication-assisted treatment and other behavioral health services continues to be a priority
  • Maternity outcomes:  Access to obstetric units and maternity care is a concern in nearly half of Pennsylvania’s rural counties
  • Connecting care:  Undiagnosed chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, can lead to poorer outcomes without intervention across providers

Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals are at the forefront of health care innovation. Launched during 2019, Pennsylvania’s Rural Health Model ensures rural hospitals can count on stable revenue sources. The program also encourages hospitals to transform care—with a focus on telehealth and other preventive services that may reduce the need for more expensive acute care.

HAP has been a champion of Pennsylvania’s Rural Health Model and applauds our rural hospitals for their outstanding commitment to the communities they serve.

For more information, contact Kate Slatt, HAP’s vice president, innovative payment and care delivery.