Healthcare Workforce Shortages and the Role of Grants Funding
Healthcare Workforce Shortages and the Role of Grants Funding

By Amber Walker, Grants Development Associate, Healthcare

            Following years of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States continues to see workforce shortages across the healthcare services industry. This trend was anticipated prior to 2020, however, the pandemic accelerated the rate at which physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals have left and continue to leave the field. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States is projected to face a workforce shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nearly 195,400 nursing positions will be vacant and openings for home health aides and other personal health aide workers will increase by 37% by the year 2028.
            The rise in vacancies is projected to continue for reasons beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these reasons is an aging general population. People are living longer with more chronic health conditions, requiring more care, and the physician and nursing workforce are also aging out of service. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data in 2010, there were 40.3 million Americans aged 65 and older. By 2034, it is predicted that number will be 77 million.  
            Healthcare workforce shortages will have system wide effects, impacting patients from all backgrounds and geographic locations. Patients across the board will experience decreased healthcare access but communities with a high concentration of homeless individuals, minority community members, high concentrations of poverty, and rural communities will see these effects with more frequency and severity. Currently, millions of Americans live in “Medically Underserved Area” and “Health Professional Shortage Area,” designations assigned by the Health Resource Services Administration (HRSA) to describe “geographic areas and populations with a lack of access to primary care services” and “areas have a shortage of primary, dental, or mental health care providers.” This population will continue to rise as the healthcare workforce continues to decline.
            The predictions of workforce deficiencies do not paint an optimistic outlook for the future of healthcare, but there are opportunities for corrective action. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the healthcare shortage in the United States, steps can be taken to prepare for this reality. Stakeholders from all points of connection to the healthcare industry need to collaborate to alleviate some of the strain on the system.
            Many at the point of care in the healthcare sector are looking for grant funding to help them overcome these workforce issues and meet their delivery objectives. Some of the most common areas of focus for grant funding are medical education and training, expanding telemedicine and team-based care models, improving physician well-being and retention, promoting health equity and diversity in the workforce, and recruiting international candidates. In recent years, hundreds of millions in grant funding have been awarded to hospitals, health centers, medical research programs, primary care facilities, and telehealth programs through federal and state government and private foundation support.
            In the area of healthcare workforce development, many multi-pronged grant funding opportunities have been developed. One program, designed to make education more accessible, is the Nurse Faculty Loan Program (NFLP). The goal of NFLP is to “increase the number of qualified nursing faculty nationwide by providing low interest loans for individuals studying to be nurse faculty and loan cancelation for those who then go on to work as faculty.” Another program, designed to alleviate healthcare burdens to rural communities, is the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program. The purpose of THCGME is to “provide funding to support the training of residents in primary care residency training programs in community-based ambulatory patient care centers… particularly in rural and underserved communities…” An example of a workforce development opportunity that addresses a root cause of the healthcare worker shortage is the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP). The purpose of the GWEP is to educate and train healthcare and supportive care workforces to care for older adults by collaborating with community partners. Programs such as this are essential to address the rapid growth of an aging population.
            If your organization is pursuing grant funding to address workforce shortages in your healthcare system, the above discussed funding programs are a great place to start. All three of these programs are funded through the Health Resource Services Administration and are just a small fraction of a grants landscape that has identified our healthcare system’s resiliency as a top funding priority.

Additional healthcare funding resources:

  • Health Resource Services Administration (HRSA)
  • Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • (search of national private foundations for programs that align with your service delivery priority and objectives)