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  • Writer's pictureDunn Pearson

Why Delaware is still struggling to hire health care workers post-COVID: The Press Room

Delaware News Journal

The health department’s greatest challenge is no longer controlling the spread of COVID-19 – it’s finding people who want to work for them.

During the Department of Health and Social Services’ budget hearing, Secretary Molly Magarik said there are about 900 open positions out of 4,000 total employees. Some divisions are facing vacancy rates as high as 80%.

The health department is the state’s largest agency, with a whopping recommended budget of $1.5 billion. Last year, lawmakers approved changes to the agency’s pay policy, with the hopes it would attract more applicants. The department is again asking for salary increases.

“I can't imagine what would have happened without it,” Magarik told lawmakers. “We still are having unprecedented staffing challenges.”

The problem, specifically, is finding health care workers. Because of a nationwide shortage, the private sector (think hospitals) are offering tens of thousands of dollars in signing bonuses, in addition to higher salaries. The state simply can’t compete.

“It’s as though a bomb went off within the health care sector,” Magarik said.

“Do we go back to what it looked like before?” she continued. “Or is this a permanent shift in the workforce … that will require the state to do more dramatic things to ensure that we have the services and the health care system that we need for the population that's here, not to mention the fact that that population is aging”

Magarik said the state is looking to hire nursing assistants and then pay for these workers to undergo training to become certified nursing assistants. A similar program will exist for licensed practical nurses. The hope, she said, is to take the barrier of training (and its cost) away from prospective employees.

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