A legislative virtual hearing this week shed light on the challenges faced by the island in building and sustaining a healthcare workforce for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The University School of Nursing, for one, is operating on a limited number of professors. They are also faced with program limitations that are brought on by the pandemic.
Margaret Hattori-Uchima, the dean of the UOG School of Nursing, said that staff limitation also hinders them from pursuing health-related grants that could have been used to grow the nursing program.
While these challenges are there, she says they are unable to fill the demand and to open more slots in the nursing program at the university.
She also said there is a need to train and educate not just nurses but other allied professionals as well such as certified nursing assistants and caregivers.
She says the usual focus is on the nursing gap. But with nursing assistants, there is also a huge gap in care, particularly in the home setting.
There is also the hands-on aspect of the recertification program for CNAs and caregivers which pose a challenge with the social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said most of the home, private and privately-hired healthcare staff are actually caregivers and Certified Nursing Assistants.
“Yes, the RN shortage is just terrible. But we also have shortages with nursing assistants and caregivers. and even with rehab professionals. Lillian (Posadas-Perez) talked about respiratory therapists….people in ventilators need not just a nurse but a respiratory therapist,” Hattori-Uchima said.
Dr. Thomas Krise, UOG President, also spoke during the virtual hearing. He suggested reinvesting the money appropriated for travel nurses to the training and education of the local health workforce on island.