US congress urged to fix healthcare workforce

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US congress urged to fix healthcare workforce

US healthcare associations have alerted members of the US congress to serious problems in the healthcare workforce, which they say were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image: DisobeyArt/Shutterstock)
Dental Tribune International

Dental Tribune International

Thu. 13 July 2023


WASHINGTON, US: The American Dental Association (ADA) and 19 other healthcare associations have urged US lawmakers to confront problems facing the domestic healthcare workforce, such as financial instability, staff shortages and geographical disparities. If left unchecked, the problems will limit access to healthcare for those living in the US, the signatories said.

The letter, written to members of congress on behalf of healthcare professionals across the country, described the US healthcare workforce as maldistributed and inadequate in size, problems it said were effectively restricting access to care for many Americans. The authors said that legislative actions were needed to expand the healthcare workforce pipeline and to have healthcare workers in the areas where they are most needed.

The letter read: “The COVID-19 public health emergency created massive shifts in the health workforce and exacerbated already existing workforce problems. Financial instability compounded the stress of paying off student loans for many providers, and burn-out led others to leave the healthcare field altogether. These shifts have made geographical and population disparities more acute.”

“The COVID-19 public health emergency created massive shifts in the health workforce and exacerbated already existing workforce problems”

Staff shortages had reached a tipping point, the authors wrote, saying: “Despite intensive candidate searches and offers of new employment inducements, staff vacancies remain that limit the number of patients who can receive care.”

The letter did not call for specific legislative solutions but sought to draw the attention of lawmakers to specific policy areas, including changes in tax policy and student loan relief, and dedicated workforce grant programmes aimed at alleviating care disparities in underserved areas. “We also welcome your ideas for legislation in other policy areas that will lead to a health workforce that can meet the needs of Americans,” the authors said.

The letter was signed by several dental associations, including the American Association of Orthodontists, American College of Prosthodontics, American Association of Endodontists and American Association for Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research.

A growing shortage of US dental professionals

The ADA has been calling attention to recruitment problems at US dental clinics since the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic compounded the talent shortfall. A monthly poll of dental professionals in September 2021 conducted by the ADA Health Policy Institute revealed that more dentists listed recruitment challenges (40.1%) than COVID-19 restrictions (30.6%) as a factor that was preventing them from seeing more patients.

Research by the institute from June showed that dental clinics located in all geographies were still struggling to fill positions. Among owner dentists who were or recently had been recruiting, 61.2% described finding a dentist as extremely challenging and 80.5% said the same for recruiting dental hygienists. Respondents based in the 20 largest US cities were finding it most difficult to recruit dental hygienists, and 93.8% said that it was extremely challenging. The vast majority of respondents practising in rural areas described the task of recruiting dentists, dental assistants, dental hygienists and administrative staff as being either extremely challenging or very challenging.

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