Frontline health workers have been the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether in the ICU, emergency department, skilled nursing facilities, ambulances, or providing in-home or community-based services, health care workers continue to put themselves at risk to deliver care to patients and provide life-saving services.
With a long fight still ahead on COVID-19, the California Future Health Workforce Commission hosted a webinar on October 21 with a statewide group of health workforce experts to discuss what California must do next to ensure access to everything from PPE and child care to the regulatory flexibility that has expanded the workforce in response to the pandemic.
“I don’t think any of us have to look very far to see the impact of frontline health workers,” said Judy Belk, president and CEO of The California Wellness Foundation, during her opening remarks. “They’ve also put a spotlight on the toll that this pandemic has taken on communities of color, who are disproportionately represented in the ranks of our essential workers. As the pandemic continues, it’s clear that we need to be more intentional about caring for the needs of those who care for us.”
California has become recognized nationally for its response to COVID—including a wave of executive orders and legislation that has helped equip frontline workers with PPE, broadened the number of places care can be provided, accelerated the now-widespread adoption of telemedicine, and expanded scope of practice for specialists ranging from community paramedics to nurse practitioners.
In a wide-ranging discussion, webinar panelists highlighted what must be done next—to prevent burnout, expand COVID-19 testing, and provide all essential health workers with a livable wage.
“We need to codify things into law,” said Senator Connie M. Leyva, who co-authored a bill this year signed by the Governor expanding the state’s definition of “essential” workers to include doctors, nurses, and other clinicians, as well as in-home supportive services workers and skilled nursing facilities staff. “We need to make sure our essential workers have everything they need. When COVID hit, the state of California did what it had to do. And shame on us if we’re not ready next time.”
Among the ideas discussed for expanding support to essential health care workers:
- Recognizing all health workers are, in fact, “essential”
- Strengthening the rights of health workers to understand the risks they face in providing care
- Providing frontline workers in all specialties with expanded training for emergency responses—as well as emotional and mental health support
- Ensuring all health workers have basic protections, including PPE, sick leave, hazard pay, and access to testing—including the hundreds of thousands of Californians working in assisted living facilities, providing homecare services, and serving as community health workers
- Extending the flexible emergency regulations that have accelerated adoption of telemedicine, in particular, while also advancing how care is provided in and outside the home in the future
- Recording: A recording of the session can be found here.
- Summary of public health recommendations: The Commission’s 2019 recommendations for bolstering the public health workforce can be found here.
- Full Commission report: The full Commission report is here.
- Judy Belk, President and CEO, The California Wellness Foundation (Opening remarks)
- Dave Duncan, MD, Director, California Emergency Medical Services Authority
- Connie M. Leyva, Senator, California State Legislature
- Rishi Manchanda, MD, MPH, President and CEO, HealthBegins (Moderator)
- Stephen Parodi, MD, Executive Vice President External Affairs, Communications, and Brand, The Permanente Foundation and Associate Executive Director, The Permanente Medical Group
- Brandi Wolf, Policy Director, SEIU