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Gov. Tom Wolf to sign fast-tracked $225M for health care workers

Virus Outbreak Pennsylvania nurses health care hospital doctor medical vaccine coronavirus covid-19
Matt Rourke
Nurse Sheena Davis administers a dose of a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic at the Keystone First Wellness Center in Chester, Pa., Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

Two months after the omicron variant of the coronavirus slammed hospitals with unvaccinated patients, Pennsylvania’s Legislature unanimously sent fast-tracked legislation to Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday to help keep burned-out health care workers on board during a staffing crisis.

The bill authorized $225 million, mostly for hospitals to give workers retention and recruitment payments.

Of that, about $36 million will go to facilities that provide inpatient behavioral health services.

Another $15 million will go to an oversubscribed program promising nurses up to $7,500 in student loan-debt relief, although officials acknowledged that the extra money still will not satisfy all of the more than 8,000 applications it has received.

The money is from federal pandemic relief signed by President Joe Biden last March.

The 14-day moving average of hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients hit an all-time high of above 7,000 in recent days. The surge in unvaccinated patients came during what the CEO of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania called “the most severe health care staffing shortage in recent memory.”

Neither lawmakers or Wolf administration officials could estimate how many health care workers will be eligible for an increase in pay. They said they negotiated the sum with provider groups and insisted the money is adequate, at least for the time being.

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.