Indiana urges retired healthcare workers to voluntarily return to work during COVID-19 fight

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COVID-19 has put such a strain on Indiana’s health care system that state officials are urging retired workers to return.

“This all takes an incredible toll,” Dr. Kris Box, the state’s health commissioner, said. “The greatest strain right now is on our hospital workforce, which is in the ninth month of responding to this pandemic, and facing the greatest patient load yet. They are, frankly, exhausted.”

The supply of health-care workers was tight even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Zachary Cattell, president of the Indiana Health Care Association, told The Center Square.

“It’s become a major problem during the pandemic,” he said, “COVID is unlike anything this country has experienced in 100 years.”

He supports the state’s effort to recruit retired health care workers.

“Being able to find volunteers who have maybe recently retired or semi-retired who may have maintained their licenses or maybe recently gave up their licenses is a good idea,” Cattell said.

If a health care worker is exposed to COVID-19 from a spouse or other family member at home, they may be unable to return to work for up to 24 days, he stated.

“The exposure and or contraction of the virus knocks staff out from being able to serve,” Cattell said. “We’re seeing that not only with our direct employees but with the staffing agencies that we would go to for emergency needs.”

Even in normal times, nursing is hard and demanding work and turnover is high, Cattell said.

“You’re always recruiting,” he said.

During the pandemic, Indiana has received waivers to shorten training requirements for personal care attendants to help with the shortages.

“Through the waivers that The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has provided to states, we are able to train in eight hours some very basic case tasks that otherwise wouldn’t be permitted,” Cattell said.

The personal care attendants serve as supplements to certain nurse assistants and nurses, he added.

“They can do very basic care tasks, nothing skilled, but they are extra hands,” Cattell said. “We have trained over 3,000 personal care attendants in Indiana, with the hope that we cannot only retain them, but that we can convert a number of them to full certified nurse aids and hopefully get them on their career pathway towards licensed nursing.”

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