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New York expects a nursing shortfall. Senator Gillibrand wants federal funds to rebuild the healthcare workforce

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) stands with Gabrielle Kersaint, executive director at the Brooklyn-Queens-Long Island Area Health Center, who wants to diversify the healthcare industry workforce in New York.
J.D. Allen
WSHU Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) stands with Gabrielle Kersaint, executive director at the Brooklyn-Queens-Long Island Area Health Center, who wants to diversify the healthcare industry workforce in New York.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) visited Stony Brook University on Long Island to highlight the need for more workforce development programs in the medical field. She said the pandemic has been hard on hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

In a letter to her congressional colleagues, she wants $67 million in federal funding for healthcare workforce development programs.

“They desperately need reinforcements. Staff are physically and emotionally burnt out and hospitals across the entire state have been working with skeleton crews. More than 5 million New Yorkers live in primary care health professional shortage areas,” said Gillibrand. “If we don’t act, the problem will continue to grow.”

Gillibrand said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a shortage in healthcare workers. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates a nationwide shortfall in doctors due to stress from the pandemic, and New York alone is projected to lose more than 39,000 registered nurses by 2030, according to state health officials.

The money would be allocated to Area Health Education Centers, regional hubs that help with student recruitment, job creation for recent graduates and increase diversity in the medical field. There are 250 education centers nationwide, nine of which are in New York. Gillibrand said more funding would provide the resources necessary to cope with the current pandemic and ongoing staff shortages.

“Our mission is to prepare the future healthcare workforce because, as you know, we have critical shortages. Our overall vision is to improve access to quality healthcare in every community. We want to make sure that we get people from every cultural community and every nationality into healthcare,” said Gabrielle Kersaint, executive director of the Brooklyn-Queens-Long Island Area Health Center.

Over 272,000 high school and college students have participated in the statewide pipeline program over the last 20 years. Kersaint said many of them are now doctors, nurses, and other nonmedical roles in healthcare settings.

“Currently, the nation's health-professions workforce does not nearly reflect the diversity of the nation,” Stacy Jaffee Gropack, dean of the School of Health Technology and Management at Stony Brook University. “Growing evidence shows that diversity in educational environments can improve learning outcomes for all students, improving such skills as active thinking, intellectual engagement, and motivation, as well as certain social and civic skills, such as the ability to empathize and have racial and cultural understanding.”

Stony Brook University student Anthony Machuca piloted a similar program through the college.

The student-run initiative looks to introduce underrepresented high school students to healthcare careers through mentor programs. He and others work to engage students on a weekly basis.

“Students from this cohort went on to colleges and universities and some are now studying at Stony Brook University pursuing a career in one of our many professional healthcare programs,” Machuca said in statement.

Gropack said she hopes the university can build on this initiative with increased federal aid for the regional health education center.

Congress has already allocated nearly $8 billion in funding to bolster the public health workforce — including potentially $3 billion for the “Health Force,” a public health bill package introduced by Gillibrand meant to aid vaccine distribution and empower community leaders to improve local health outcomes. The legislation would also implement a minimum wage standard of at least $15 an hour plus benefits, and targeted hiring in underserved communities.

Julio is a former intern with WSHU Public Radio.