“It’s a perfect storm”: strained healthcare workforce juggles testing, vaccinations

BOSTON — The frustration factor of waiting for a COVID test has been palpable across Massachusetts in long lines that haven’t been subsiding.

With Boston and other communities looking to expand testing, health care advocates point to several challenges on the horizon.

Michael Curry, CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, calls it “a perfect storm”.

He said the demand for testing and vaccinations amid the Omicron surge is overwhelming an already strained healthcare workforce.

“We’re getting reports from some of our health care centers across the state that as high as 30 percent of their health care staff are calling in sick,” said Curry, who oversees 52 health centers. “We also have many people in the healthcare workforce who have left their profession.”

Curry has been on the front lines of this pandemic in Massachusetts for almost two years now.

The co-chair of the State Legislature’s “Health Equity Task Force” said the state has been working with providers to tackle the new wave of challenges.

“How can we balance putting vaccines in the arms, still doing boosters, and then still building up our testing?,” asked Curry. “I think we’re still a week or two out from getting it together.”

Curry believes recruiting and retaining a locally-based healthcare workforce is a crucial long-term goal.

He believes staffing shortages will be an obstacle in expanding hours and opening up more testing sites.

“We’re going to need to deploy some of the strategies we’re seeing in cities like New York that could work here,” said Curry. “Expand hours, weekends… is really the way to go.”

Boston city officials have reached out to the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury as a potential mass testing and vaccination combination site.

Boston Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bisola Ojikutu said the city is also working on helping community health centers with staffing issues.