Workforce issues dominate conversation at annual hospital leadership summit 

Improving Pennsylvania’s health care workforce pipeline and the tools available to lessen the problem continue to be at the top of mind for the state’s health system leadership. 

The state’s hospital leaders met this week in Harrisburg for the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania’s Annual Leadership Summit. 

The summit marked the first time that the association’s members have sat together to discuss what they are doing since the last summit in 2019, said Andy Carter, Hospital Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) president and CEO. 

The summit spanned two days, with many of its topics centering around the workforce shortage, something Carter said is impacting all health care systems across the state in some way. 

“It is profound– we have high vacancy rates, and our hospitals are full,” he said, adding that the systems have been particularly focused on addressing shortages among nurses. “We cherish the work nurses do and we met to continue to identify strategies to retain existing nurses and create a pipeline for new nurses.” 

The Wolf Administration announced in March that it would be allocating $225 million to support Pennsylvania’s health care workforce needs of hospitals and behavioral health providers as part of Act 2 of 2022, signed into law in January. 

Summit speakers touched on a number of strategies that systems will need to look at as they tackle the problem of health care workforce shortages.  

Carter said the association and its membership are grateful for the funds but that providers now need to look toward long-term solutions. 

Solutions discussed at the summit included improving compensation among staff and in particular, understanding different generational needs among the nurse population. 

“Some are looking for a really good retirement plan because they are 55, others are looking for loan forgiveness because they are 22 and fresh out of an expensive nursing program,” said Carter. “They are working harder to customize for different needs and to organize shifts with a much keener eye to the preferences of the nursing professionals and other clinicians.” 

Carter also highlighted the workforce pipeline, noting that hospitals recognize that they will need to be creative in how they improve the pipeline by increasing access to more faculty and bettering nursing education programs. 

Behavioral Health 

Among workforce issues across hospitals, one of the more pressing issues lies in behavioral health, according to Carter. 

Some of HAP’s member hospitals are so strapped for behavioral health professionals that at any given time a hospital can have dozens of patients in its emergency department that no longer need emergency care but are suffering an acute mental health crisis. 

“These folks need specialized treatment in an inpatient or outpatient facility but there is no capacity,” said Carter. “They have to stay with us and that constrains our capacity. Right now we are essentially providing boarding services for them.” 

This month, HAP wrote on behalf of its more than 235 member organizations to the state’s elected leaders, asking them to approve an increase of state funding for county mental health programs by at least $28 million and facilitate placement in post-acute care settings by including an additional $13 million to county mental health funding. 

The letter also asked elected officials to require that Medicaid payment rates properly reflect the cost of complex cases, longer stays and resource-intensive treatments. 

Retreat Behavioral Health to opens treatment center in Connecticut

Ephrata-based Retreat Behavioral Health will open a mental health and substance abuse treatment center in Connecticut next week.

The Lancaster County health care system operates inpatient treatment centers in Lancaster County and Palm Springs, Florida. The new center, opening Jan. 9, in New Haven, Connecticut, will be its third.

The new facility is approximately 53,000 square feet, has 80 beds and is Retreat’s first inpatient facility built with mental health services in mind.

Formerly known as Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Centers, Retreat rebranded itself early last year after meeting the requirements to offer mental health services at its facilities.

Connecticut was chosen for its newest facility because of the state’s high death rates from opioids, which were at a rate of 27.7 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017,  twice the national average.

“We are prepared to hit the ground running in Connecticut to provide some relief to those who are suffering,” said Peter Schorr, Retreat Behavioral Health President and CEO. “With high-quality, affordable care, we aim to address the opioid epidemic, as well as all other growing substance abuse and mental health issues. By providing individualized care, a peaceful environment, and affordable treatment offerings, we aim to become the leading resource for this region.”

The new center will offer services such as rehabilitation, detox, intensive outpatient care and holistic therapy. Retreat’s new mental health services branch, Synergy Health Programs, will also offer services for mental health disorders like PTSD, depression and bipolar disorder from the center.