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  • Writer's pictureKerry McKittrick

COVID-19 and the Changing Healthcare Workforce: Policy Interventions for Recruitment and Retention

Research cover titled Policy Interventions for Recruitment and Retention

COVID-19 and the Changing Massachusetts Healthcare Workforce: Policy Interventions for Recruitment and Retention

By Rachel Lipson, Ali Epstein, Kerry McKittrick, and Saty Rao

The COVID-19 pandemic put extreme stress on the healthcare workforce.

At the onset of the crisis, states across the country introduced emergency measures to address critical shortages of healthcare workers in their states. Simultaneously, hospitals and other healthcare providers began to innovate by piloting new programs in an effort to improve recruitment and retention of their healthcare staff. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law by President Joe Biden in March 2021, created a new surge in funding for states for this purpose.

Since then, as the healthcare workforce has begun to stabilize, states have suspended emergency funding that were implemented in response to the pandemic. In some states, like Iowa, the “State of Emergency" and related measures simply expired. In others, like Arizona, emergency measures were lifted or terminated. Still other states, like California, retired their emergency relief following the White House’s announcement that the federal state of emergency for COVID would end in May 2023. Although much of the pandemic emergency relief funding and programs have come to a close, some of the policy initiatives introduced to respond to worker recruitment and retention challenges can serve as solutions to future healthcare workforce challenges.

The table, below, classifies the programs and policies adopted by other states to address healthcare worker supply challenges throughout the pandemic and provides examples of how Massachusetts–and others–might better recruit and retain healthcare workers.



This post would not have been possible without the research efforts of Saty Rao and Katie Mimini. The authors would also like to thank the Massachusetts Healthcare Collaborative for their support on this research.

The views expressed in this post are the sole responsibility of the authors and not meant to represent the views of the Harvard Kennedy School or Harvard University.

Please direct inquiries to: Kerry McKittrick (


The Project on Workforce is an interdisciplinary, collaborative project between the Harvard Kennedy School’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the Harvard Business School Managing the Future of Work Project, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The Project produces and catalyzes basic and applied research at the intersection of education and labor markets for leaders in business, education, and policy. The Project’s research aims to help shape a postsecondary system of the future that creates more and better pathways to economic mobility and forges smoother transitions between education and careers. Learn more at


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