Skip to main content

California’s health care provider pipeline needs major boost to ward off shortage, workers say

Source: Capitol Radio

Physical therapist Gina Yarbrough used to have the time to see some of her young patients  two to three times a week. 

Now, she’s booking appointments for kids four to six weeks out.  

“We barely see them. It's almost like just a consult. It's not adequate for these kids who have really profound needs,” she said. 

Yarborough works for Kaiser Permanente and treats children with developmental delays in motor functioning, special needs children and those recovering from health crises like cancer. 

During their visits, the Modesto-based physical therapist says she devotes much time to teaching parents how to do the therapy so they can do exercises with the children until they can see her again. 

“We need more hands and feet on the ground, treating, caring, providing support for these families, for these children,” she said. 

The nation is facing a health care shortage decades in the making, and the situation in California is especially dire. Projections show the state could be short 44,000 registered nurses by 2030. Approximately 35% of physicians in the state are over 60 years old. Those numbers, plus current threadbare conditions for health care workers in the state, brought hundreds of unionized providers down to California’s state Capitol Tuesday to call for better pipelines into the profession and better support for healthcare workers in the near-term. 

The United Nurses Associations of California and United Health Care Professionals are asking chiefly for a major investment — $500 million distributed from 2025 to 2030 — in California’s 77 community college nursing schools, to scale up their programs. 

They’re also calling for legislators to pass a package of three bills. Assembly Bill 1695 would further bolster the pipeline by creating a Nursing 101 course in high schools that could lead to automatic eligibility for a community college program. Assembly Bill 1577 would require hospitals to provide more opportunities for clinical hours for nurses, and Assembly Bill 1063 would improve oversight of nurse-to-patient ratios.

Assembly member Jesse Gabriel, a Democrat representing a portion of the San Fernando Valley, authored AB 1063 and says his support of nurses comes from watching his mother struggle in the profession. 

“Having talked to her about staffing ratios, having talked to her about the way that so many of our hospitals are focused on profits over patients, on profits over caregivers,” he said. “There were times when she felt, and I'm sure many of you have experienced this, that going to the bathroom during a 12-hour shift would put a patient at risk. That is unacceptable.”

Desiree Daugherty, a Kaiser physical therapist based in South Sacramento, said she appreciates the support from legislators who served as providers, or are connected to people who do. 

“They see the flaws. And I think that's the biggest thing, is that once you live it, then you know how bad it is,” she said. 

Dauherty said several people in her department have left since the pandemic started due to burnout. Providers need help now, she said, not further down the line.  

“We could be managing over 100 patients easily and being responsible for that many people is mentally, physically, emotionally draining,” she said.

In an email, Kaiser Permanente spokesperson Deniene Erickson says the company is “not immune” to staffing shortages and burnout. 

Erickson said the provider is “aggressively recruiting and hiring more staff to provide relief for our frontline workforce and address staffing shortages.” 

The bills UNAC and UHCP are pushing for have passed initial hurdles, and have all been passed back to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where they’re expected to be heard again soon.