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Despite the many challenges posed by COVID-19, the head of the Wisconsin Hospital Association says the pandemic has also presented “a number of silver linings” related to regulations around health care.

Speaking today at a Wisconsin competitive event held at Western Technical College in Mauston, Eric Borgerding said he viewed the past few years as “one giant regulatory reform pilot program”.

“There were a lot of regulations, both state and federal — largely around telehealth or where care can be delivered — that were lifted,” he said. “And we have learned many lessons from these regulatory waivers that can be useful to us in the future, in particular with regard to access to care and the use of the workforce that we have.”

In addition to highlighting the benefits of telehealth for expanding access to certain types of primary care and behavioral health care, Borgerding also discussed a “hospital to home” program that provides certain patients with care in person without going to the hospital. He said it’s important because it makes use of limited hospital beds and staff for those who “really, really need hospital care”.

Many of the panelists at today’s event discussed the healthcare workforce crisis linked to the retirement of older staff, an aging population more prone to disease, burnt-out workers leaving for less stressful conditions, the impact of the pandemic and other factors.

Wisconsin Medical Society President Dr. Wendy Molaska and Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative Executive Director Tim Size agreed that while telehealth can be useful for convenience, reducing the burden of travel and making specialized care, it will not solve the labor problem.

Size said rural parts of the state face the problem more, which has both short-term and long-term components. While many certified practical nurses are leaving the field for easier jobs, he also noted that the “horrendous” conditions of the pandemic have pushed other professionals into early retirement. Still, Size said the biggest workforce crisis is the growing number of aging and retiring baby boomers, leading to much higher healthcare utilization and costs.

He also warned that most healthcare professionals will see significant labor shortages over the next decade, adding that “this level of shortage will make the challenge we had last winter, when our system was in free fall, child’s play”.

Zan Degen, vice president of administration at Mayo Clinic Health System, explained that many new nurses in the field don’t want to work full-time, causing some employers to need almost twice as many people. to complete the same number of shifts. She called for a greater focus on creating communities that are attractive to incoming workers to help address the labor shortage.

And Molaska noted that while everyone in health care wants the best for patients, she said individual groups can get caught up in disputes over specific regulatory changes and proposals.

“How do we all work together as public health, as hospitals, as behavioral health, as pharmacists, as nurses – how do we get all of these components to work together and realize that we are all working towards the same thing?” she says.

The size spoke of the negative impact of societal divides more broadly, highlighting diminishing trust in academics, scientists and medical professionals. He noted that Wisconsin is one of the worst states in the nation for childhood vaccination rates, describing a divisive “huge cultural problem” that needs to be addressed.

“We need to rediscover another lost art, and that’s finding common ground,” he said.

Learn more about Wisconsin’s competitive event series here.

–By Alex Moe