A shortage of healthcare workers continues to undermine patients and the quality of care they receive. A 2023 survey found 63% of respondents, which included hospitals, health systems, and medical groups, struggle to meet the needs of patients.

Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu, former Acting Surgeon General of the U.S. and former Deputy Surgeon General, cites that stat in a new piece that argues we must support healthcare workers – especially considering this backdrop of a severe worker shortage.

One field with a particular need is behavioral health. Addiction continues to ravage communities, all while a growing shortage of workers who are suited to treat these patients undermines our ability to address the scourge.

Dr. Moritsugu writes that one important way to support healthcare workers is to avoid “inappropriately criminalizing healthcare decisions,” which “would have severe negative implications for our healthcare system and the patients whom we all serve.”

He points to a recently enacted law in Kentucky as a model policy. That law “grants immunity from criminal liability to healthcare providers related to the provision of health services, while still outlawing gross negligence and malicious or intentional misconduct.”

As patients continue to face major health challenges and healthcare workers are in short supply, we must do what we can to encourage worker recruitment and retention to ensure proper care for patients.

Read Dr. Moritsugu’s full piece here.