January 05, 2022

As Omicron Surge Continues Strain On Health Care Workforce, Gillibrand Announces Bipartisan Bill To Address Retention And Recruitment Of Health Care Professionals Through Student Loan Repayment Program

New York State Health Care System Overwhelmed by Rapid Omicron Spread; More Than 5 Million New Yorkers Live In Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas; More Than 20 NYS Hospitals Nearing Capacity Have Stopped Performing All Elective Surgeries The Bipartisan BIO Preparedness Workforce Act Would Help Alleviate Strain and Grow the Infectious Disease and Pandemic Preparedness Workforce

As the New York State health care system battles worker shortages and hospital strain, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is announcing her support of the Bolstering Infectious Outbreak (BIO) Preparedness Workforce Act. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed gaps in our nation’s preparedness for public health emergencies and as Omicron continues to spread, many New York State hospitals are facing severe staffing shortages and are nearing capacity. This bipartisan bill would help address retention and recruitment issues in the health care workforce by removing financial barriers and authorizing $50 million to establish a new student loan repayment program for infectious disease clinicians and bio-preparedness health care professionals. 

“We are starting this year as we finished the last - our health care system and providers are under historic levels of stress and they need reinforcements,” said Senator Gillibrand. This bipartisan bill would establish a loan repayment program to meet the needs of our nation’s health care workforce and attract more students to receive vital clinical care training. We must do everything in our power to eliminate financial barriers and encourage the next generation of infectious disease and public health professionals so New York is well equipped for future crises.”

A June 2020 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 208 million Americans live in areas with little or no access to an infectious disease (ID) provider. In 2020, only 75% of infectious diseases training programs were able to fill all their slots, in part due to lower salaries for ID providers than nearly all other specialties, including general internal medicine. Given that the average medical student debt is over $200,000, the ID specialty and related bio-preparedness work are a financially infeasible choice for many. Physicians, nurses, laboratory professionals, and other health care professionals have also been working intense hours in an environment of health risks, uncertainty, and overwhelming patient loss, contributing to severe burnout during the pandemic. Many have considered early retirement, exacerbating existing workforce concerns and threatening the future of this critical workforce.

Qualified individuals working in infectious disease and bio-preparedness and response, including physicians, clinical pharmacists, physician assistants, and advanced practice registered nurses, may receive up to $50,000 for each year of service, up to a total of $150,000 in loan repayment.

The BIO Preparedness Workforce Act is supported by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Infectious Diseases Society of America, American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, American Association of Medical Colleges, National Rural Health Association, Association for Clinical Microbiology, American Society for Microbiology, American Dental Association, Association of Professionals in Infection Prevention and Epidemiology, HIV Medicine Association, AIDS Institute, AIDS United, American Academy of HIV Medicine, American College of Clinical Pharmacy, American Institute of Dental Public Health, Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, American Association for the Study of Liver Disease, Society for Health Care Epidemiology, American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, American Society for Clinical Pathology, HIV Dental Alliance, HIV + Hepatitis Policy Institute, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Medical Association, National Virus Hepatitis Roundtable, National Working Positive Coalition, Latino Commission on AIDS, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Physician Assistant Education Association, Ryan White Medical Providers Coalition, Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacists, University of Wisconsin Health System, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Vivent Health, Wisconsin Medical Society, and the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

This bill is led by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Ben Cardin (D-MD).

The full text of the Bolstering Infectious Outbreak (BIO) Preparedness Workforce Act can be found here.