New bill supports programs, scholarships, training, more to create skilled, diverse healthcare labor force.
The healthcare workforce shortage is gaining attention in Congress. Most recently, a bill that reauthorizes several health professions education and training programs from 2020 through 2024 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Michael C. Burgess (R-TX) sponsored the Educating Medical Professionals and Optimizing Workforce Efficiency and Readiness (EMPOWER) for Health Act (H.R. 2781). The bill is designed to help ensure that patients and communities nationwide have access to healthcare professionals, services, and supports by promoting an educated, skilled workforce.
Among the programs that will receive funding:
- Centers of Excellence Program. Center award recipients serve as innovative resources and education centers to recruit, train, and retain underrepresented minority students and faculty at health professions schools. This program is designed to help produce a quality healthcare workforce whose racial and ethnic diversity fairly represents the U.S. population.
- Health Professionals Training for Diversity. This program provides scholarships for disadvantaged students, loan repayments, and more. The aim is to assist minority individuals and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to enter healthcare professions.
- National Center for Healthcare Workforce Analysis. This program is designed to analyze workforce-related issues and to provide necessary information for decision-making regarding future directions in health professions and nursing programs in response to societal needs.
- Area Health Education Centers. This program develops and enhances education and training networks within communities, academic institutions, and community-based organizations.
Specific to post-acute and long-term care are the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) and the Geriatrics Academic Career Awards (GACAs) to provide grants for training across the provider continuum to integrate geriatrics and primary care delivery systems. These are aimed at addressing the extreme shortage of healthcare professionals specially trained to care for the rapidly growing and diverse older population and advance supports for older adults and caregivers.
The bill has broad bipartisan support, and it has won praise among healthcare professional organizations. For instance, National Association for Geriatric Education President Catherine Carrico said, “The nation faces a shortage of geriatric health professionals and direct service workers, and the GWEP sites and GACAs have improved the supply, distribution, diversity, capabilities, and quality of health care professionals who care for our nation’s growing older adult population, including the underserved and minorities. GWEPs also provide training to family caregivers, who are a critical support for many older adults.”