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The 2023 Dane County budget, which was signed into law by County Executive Joe Parisi two weeks ago, includes more than $600,000 in funding for a groundbreaking trauma recovery program to support the medical workforce.

According to a release from SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, the state’s largest healthcare workers union, healthcare workers are celebrating the creation and funding of the “landmark program” that is designed to support retention, recruitment and the overall well-being of frontline medical workers in Dane County.

Parisi’s budget goes into effect on Jan. 1 and will include $621,000 for the program, which will officially be called the Health Care and Public Health Workforce Mental Health and Trauma Recovery and Workforce Development Program. The program will be funded through Public Health Madison and Dane County and made available through a Request for Proposal (RFP) that is available to community agencies to fulfill program needs.

“This breakthrough program is a major step toward solving the crisis facing the healthcare workforce and promoting worker wellbeing and retention,” said Tami Burns, a registered nurse with eight years of service in healthcare. Burns served on the Health Care and Public Health Workforce Needs Subcommittee. “We have been facing a healthcare emergency that’s been more than 30 years in the making. We’re caught in a vicious cycle where there’s short staffing so people get burned out, which leads to even more severe short staffing and burnout. I applaud the county leaders who are working to support us and stop this downward spiral. I’m also grateful for the healthcare workers who have been advocating for this program because we have made a difference. This program sets the bar.”

According to the release, the program has been championed by members of the Health Care and Public Health Workforce Needs Subcommittee, a working group that included county supervisors, healthcare workers, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, employers and other community stakeholders. The subcommittee was created in May by the Health and Human Needs Committee of the Dane County Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Mike Bare chaired the subcommittee, which presented its full report this fall.

“As a community, we need to support our healthcare workforce and keep workers in the field, and the Trauma Recovery program is a major achievement,” said Pat Raes, a registered nurse for more than 32 years and president of the state’s largest healthcare union, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin. Raes also served on the subcommittee. “The effects of the pandemic are still rumbling through our hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities. Burnout is everywhere. For many years, we have tucked our chins and just kept going. But healthcare workers are still struggling. Workers are still leaving. We needed support from Dane County because this issue affects our entire community, and I’m grateful that our county leaders have stepped up. I’m also grateful for the union members who spoke out about this crisis, including in very raw, personal ways. Their bravery has created change.”

According to the release, in January 2022, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin conducted a professional poll of 920 Dane County healthcare workers which quantitatively reinforced their lived experiences. Those findings include the following:

  • 90% of healthcare workers believe understaffing is having a major negative impact on their patients
  • 86% have experienced stress or trauma during the pandemic
  • 85% feel like they’re working in a war zone
  • 82% have considered leaving the field and/or know a co-worker who has
  • 69% say there has been a negative impact on family and personal relationships
  • 19% know a healthcare worker who has considered suicide
  • 97% support the creation of a program to address the crisis

“Healthcare workers advocated for change, and the Trauma Recovery program is a huge win,” said Tatiana Smith, a certified nursing assistant with 22 years of service in healthcare. Smith also served on the subcommittee. “The pandemic aggravated a lot of the problems in our healthcare system, and we as a community needed to take action. I appreciate the county leaders who worked alongside us to make this happen.”

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