HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s state Senate fast-tracked legislation Tuesday to spend $225 million to help hospitals struggling to keep staff on board as the omicron variant of the coronavirus has packed hospitals with unvaccinated patients.
The bill has backing from Gov. Tom Wolf and House leaders, and was expected to receive a final House vote Wednesday. The money is from federal pandemic relief signed by President Joe Biden last March.
Under the bill, $100 million will be distributed to acute-care hospitals on a per-bed basis, coming to about $2,800 per bed, according to an Appropriations Committee analysis.
Another $110 million will be distributed to hospitals that serve poorer and rural areas, hospitals with high proportions of Medicaid patients and facilities that provide inpatient behavioral health services, giving them an extra $4,400 per bed.
The money is intended for staff who are involved in direct patient care, environmental services or clinical care, and not for executives, contracted staff or administrators.
In response to the announced legislation, the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) released a statement commending the plan.
“After two years on the front lines, health care professionals are exhausted. Many are leaving their jobs due to burnout. There was an industry-wide health care staffing shortage before the pandemic, which has now become a crisis that threatens to affect patient care,” the statement said. “House Bill 253 will support health care professionals immediately and begin to address some long-term challenges of the staffing crisis. This investment in our health care heroes will help Pennsylvania’s health care system provide high-quality care now and in the future.”
Staff retention payments must be made within three months, and recruitment payments within six months.
The other $15 million will go to a state program begun during the pandemic that pays off student loans for nurses, up to $7,500 per person.
The original funding for it — $5 million — was not nearly enough to satisfy the thousands of applications, state officials said.