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The health care industry's biggest challenge after the pandemic? Staffing

Jae C. Hong

Today’s guests include: Heather Tomko, a disability advocate and outreach coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh; Howard Degenholtz, professor of health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health; Nancy Murray, senior vice president of Achieva and the president of the Arc of Greater Pittsburgh at Achieva; and Claire Zangerle, the chief nurse executive at Allegheny Health Network. 

On today’s episode of The Confluence:

How the pandemic impacted healthcare, what the future holds for our region
(0:00 - 22:30)

It’s been more than two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, Allegheny County’s health care system saw a dramatic increase in need. For those working in long term care or those with disabilities, the pandemic presented additional hurdles with the need for healthcare assistance at home and in facilities.

Heather Tomko, a disability advocate and outreach coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh’s National Center on Family Support, has a neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. She says before the pandemic she relied on her parents, specialists and personal care assistants to help with everyday activities. But now, because of the pandemic, getting support from caregivers has become a challenge.

“We're at a point of crisis in the home health care system that I have never seen before in my 34 years of life. It is very, very, very hard to find and train and hire people right now who are breathing and who are interested in doing this job,” Tomko says.

From acute to long-term care, staffing issues remain a problem. And as Claire Zangerle, chief nurse executive at Allegheny Health Network, explains another issue for nurses is having support outside of their jobs.

“This is the employees' world and we’re living in it,” Zangerle says. “In the workforce, social determinants are important as well. Helping our employees get to work, helping our employees live the life they want to live above and beyond their day to day work.”

This program was supported with a grant from theJewish Healthcare Foundation.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.
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