GAO Report: HHS Lacks Adequate Healthcare Workforce Planning

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which engages in planning for the 72 healthcare workforce programs administered by its agencies, lacks comprehensive planning and oversight to ensure that these efforts meet national healthcare workforce needs, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

These programs send HHS funding to institutions such as hospitals and medical schools for the training of doctors and other healthcare workers in underserved regions of the country.

The GAO report focused on two areas: (1) HHS’s planning efforts for ensuring an adequate supply and distribution of the nation’s health care workforce and (2) the extent to which individual HHS healthcare workforce programs contribute to meeting national needs.

The department analyzed current and past HHS and component agency documents that contain information on goals, objectives, strategies and metrics relations to healthcare workforce planning and development.

The report noted that HHS’s existing strategic plan is too broad-based and lacks specifics in how it will achieve its goals. Broad strategies such as improving healthcare access in historically underserved areas and supporting federally funded health centers don’t “explicitly reference workforce issues” or how they relate to HHS’ goals and performance targets, according to the GAO report.

While HHS’s workforce programs support education and training for multiple health professions, its largest programs do not specifically target areas of workforce need, such as for primary care and rural providers.

“Without a comprehensive and coordinated approach to program planning, HHS cannot fully identify the gaps between existing programs and national needs … or determine whether additional legislative proposals are needed.”

GAO recommends that HHS develop “a comprehensive and coordinated planning approach” to include performance measures, identifies any gaps between its workforce programs and national needs, and identifies actions to close these gaps.

HHS said that while it agrees with the GAO’s recommendations it pointed out that there are many areas in which comprehensive and coordinated planning is already underway.

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The Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale

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