- Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development
Media Contact for Harvard Project on Workforce and Massachusetts Healthcare Collaborative Release Report on COVID-19’s Impact on the Healthcare Workforce
Michele Campbell, Director of Communications
Boston, MA — Addresses Industry Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities
The Project on Workforce at Harvard and the Baker-Polito Administration’s Massachusetts Healthcare Collaborative announced today the release of its COVID-19 and the Changing Massachusetts Healthcare Workforce report that examines trends, issues, and opportunities within the healthcare industry.
This report analyzes data from the spring and summer of 2020 to identify and evaluate the changes, challenges, and innovations induced by the COVID-19 pandemic to the Massachusetts healthcare labor market—this first wave created unprecedented uncertainties in the healthcare workforce.
"COVID-19 underscored just how essential care workers are for the future of Massachusetts' economy and healthcare system,” said Rachel Lipson, Director of the Project on Workforce. “The Commonwealth can serve as a national leader in creating innovative new pathways into healthcare jobs, but improving job quality and advancement opportunities are key to realizing the potential.”
Three broad questions are addressed within the report: 1) What were the most significant changes to labor supply and demand in nursing, behavioral health, and direct care during the pandemic’s first wave? 2) What actions and strategies did government agencies, employers, and educators deploy to respond to rapidly changing conditions on the ground? 3) Which of these changes are likely to be temporary and which may have lasting effects?
Key insights include:
- The shortage of Critical Care Nurses intensified during the first wave of the pandemic. A surge capacity of Critical Care Nurses may be needed for future public health crises.
- The pandemic interrupted an already-restricted pipeline of new nurses, limiting clinical placements and increasing wait times for licensing exams.
- Attrition and retirements among Registered Nurses (RNs) accelerated during the spring and summer of 2020, posing long-term workforce challenges, as increasingly tough working conditions deter an aging RN workforce.
- The already-limited pipeline of new direct care workers was interrupted during the first wave, as clinical training and licensing exams grew increasingly unavailable. Challenges in hiring and retaining direct care workers were exacerbated by decreased access to childcare and concerns of contracting the virus.
- Consumer demand for behavioral health services increased during the first months of the pandemic, as the crisis intensified stress on mental and behavioral health issues such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
- The use of telehealth greatly increased in behavioral health during the pandemic, with successes in rapid implementation and high patient satisfaction, and challenges in low reimbursement, and inability to adequately serve some consumers, like young children.
“This report confirms labor shortage trends that we were seeing pre-pandemic in key industries like health care and human services” said Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta. “The findings align with the Future of Work report; both show a widening gap between job need and skilled talent exacerbated by the impacts of COVID-19. Massive upscaling in workforce training is a critical part of the solution, and the Baker-Polito Administration is committed to addressing these challenges, including through proposals to scale up capacity for proven job-training programs.”
In response to these unprecedented challenges, stakeholders rapidly responded to implement new and innovative approaches to educating healthcare trainees, providing patient care, and filling essential roles.
- Massachusetts developed its first-ever online job portal dedicated to filling roles in long-term care facilities to help address recruitment and hiring challenges.
- Training providers across the state implemented and expanded programs for remote learning, as COVID reduced access to on-site classes and clinical placements for healthcare students.
- New State and Federal policies relaxed or waived some training and employment requirements, which allowed for more nurses and CNAs to enter the workforce, filling critical roles.
- State and Federal regulators approved financial support for healthcare workers and employers, including State and Federal hazard pay for many essential workers, as well as several financial packages announced by the Baker-Polito Administration to support healthcare providers and facilities across Massachusetts.
The report also proposes questions for future research in student enrollment in healthcare training programs, updates to CNA curriculum and licensing, transitioning displaced workers into healthcare roles, retirement rates among nurses, shifts in care settings, and the utilization of telehealth.
About the Harvard Project on Workforce
The Project on Workforce at Harvard is an interdisciplinary, collaborative project between the Harvard Kennedy School’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the Harvard Business School Managing the Future of Work Project, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The Project produces and catalyzes basic and applied research at the intersection of education and labor markets for leaders in business, education, and policy. The Project’s research aims to help shape a postsecondary system of the future that creates more and better pathways to economic mobility and forges smoother transitions between education and careers.
The Project on Workforce and the Massachusetts Healthcare Collaborative launched a research collaboration in the Summer of 2020.
About the Massachusetts Healthcare Collaborative
The Massachusetts Healthcare Collaborative was convened by Governor Baker in 2019 to address critical shortages in the healthcare workforce, namely in direct care, behavioral health, and nursing occupations. The Collaborative aims to close health care workforce shortages in Massachusetts, improve patient quality of care, provide new opportunities for a diverse workforce, retain pre-eminence in the industry, and fuel continued growth.