States Are Paying to Hire Nurses for Struggling Hospitals

A registered nurse hands medication to a Covid-19 patient inside the emergency room at Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Mo., on Nov. 24, 2020.

A registered nurse hands medication to a Covid-19 patient inside the emergency room at Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Mo., on Nov. 24, 2020. Associated Press

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Missouri is the second state to partner with a Texas-based company to bring in out-of-state nurses to temporarily increase hospital capacity ahead of an expected holiday surge of Covid-19 patients.

Missouri this week became the second state to contract with a private health-care company to increase staffing numbers in hospitals ahead of an expected surge of Covid-19 cases.

The 12-week partnership with Texas-based Vizient will add up to 760 additional medical workers to Missouri hospitals, “including registered nurses, respiratory therapists, certified nursing assistants,” Gov. Mike Parson said at a press conference. “When fully deployed, this will add nearly 600 total beds to our statewide capacity.”

Vizient, a performance-improvement company, also sent close to 600 out-of-state nurses to Arizona in July when the state experienced a surge of Covid-19 cases after Gov. Doug Ducey reopened the economy. Eligible hospitals—those that had “exhausted other existing avenues of increasing staffing” and were in compliance with all existing executive orders—could receive the extra help for free for up to six weeks.

The measure was meant as a temporary fix to help hospitals “enhance their internal surge plans to fill staffing gaps,” state officials said in a statement

Missouri’s contract is similar, Parson said. The state will fund the extra staffing through the end of the year using federal coronavirus relief funding, and hospitals will pay through the end of the partnership in February. The total cost of the contract was unclear, though it’s likely that hospitals may also be able to tap into federal relief funding for their portion of the bill, Parson said.

“It depends on how many people you bring in and at what stage you bring them in,” he said. “We’ll just have to see what happens into the next year.”

Covid-19 cases in Missouri have decreased by 30% in the past two weeks after months of steady increases, according to the New York Times. But deaths and hospitalizations have both risen in that timeframe, and officials said they expect cases to surge again in the wake of gatherings on Thanksgiving.

"Although it is impossible to predict the exact impact that the Thanksgiving holiday and the holidays in December will have on hospitals' abilities to manage the surge, the early indicators are somewhat troubling," Herb Kuhn, president and CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association, said at the briefing. 

The additional medical workers, he added, “are essential to address the staff shortages that are presenting a critical threat to hospital capacity here in Missouri.”

Governors in other states have made similar moves to address staffing shortages, including initiatives designed to make it easier for retired nurses to return to work by waiving some licensing fees and requirements. 

The announcement comes as Parson continues to decline to implement a statewide mask mandate, preferring instead to leave the matter to individual counties. (Missouri is one of 13 states without a blanket policy in place.) Doctors have begged him to reconsider, including Dr. Micah Luderer, an internal medicine resident in the St. Louis area who launched a petition for a statewide mandate.

“We’re drowning at the hospital,” Luderer told a local TV affiliate. “People are dying every day from Covid-19 and we’re not doing everything in our power to stop the virus.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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