New relief package a healthy first dose to ease strain on PA health care heroes

With so many bitter divisions between the aisles, the chance to come together and help some of Pennsylvania’s most selfless, dedicated workers feels like a rare opportunity to heal some of those rifts.

Maybe that’s why it also seems fitting that H.B. 253 – which just passed the House with unanimous, bipartisan support – is dedicated to helping our healers: the nurses and other frontline hospital workers who are currently facing crisis conditions.

Of course, this isn’t the first time they have faced the incredible stresses of working in overcrowded, understaffed conditions. In fact, it seems like a hellish cycle: a COVID surge happens, hospitals swell to near-bursting with unvaccinated patients, and nurses and other frontline support staff face horrendous shortages and near-impossible conditions as they continue trying to help as many patients as possible.

This time, however, a meaningful relief package will provide help, and hope.

Once signed by the governor, the legislation we passed today will speed $210 million in federal pandemic relief directly to hospitals, which will put those dollars to work bringing nurses and other frontline staff the support they desperately need.

Specifically, the funding will include $100 million to hospitals statewide to help them retain and recruit direct care staff. The pandemic has underscored the critical need for a strong nursing and direct patient care workforce.

The funding will include substantial relief to our own hospitals here in Erie.

Another $110 million will go to hospitals that provide behavioral health services, serve a high number of Medical Assistance clients, or are in the most rural areas of the state, for recruitment and retention efforts. Like staff in other hospitals, many of these employees have been working without a break and desperately need support.

Finally, because the Student Loan Relief for Nurses Program has been flooded with applications, an additional $15 million will be allocated to increase the amount of student loan forgiveness that can be provided to nurses in various settings.

Someday, hopefully soon, the latest COVID wave will recede, and the pressure on our frontline health care workers will abate – at least temporarily – until the next health crisis creates additional burdens. These frontline heroes have demonstrated their commitment, again and again, at the bedsides of countless patients. But we can’t expect them to continue working under the extreme stresses of short-staffed conditions forever.

Will today’s funding be a sufficient dose to permanently relieve the symptoms of a chronically overburdened, understaffed health care system? Probably not, but it’s an excellent step in the right direction of giving our frontline health care heroes the support they need – and to letting them know how much we appreciate them.

It’s also a lesson that we can successfully practice a little healing of our own and come together when the circumstances demand it.