As hospitalizations of patients with the novel coronavirus hover at some of the highest levels Missouri has seen, Gov. Mike Parson announced Wednesday a partnership that he hopes will bring hundreds of healthcare workers to the state and expand capacity through February.
The state will be partnering with Vizient, a healthcare performance improvement company based in Irving, Texas, to bring up to 760 additional nurses, respiratory therapists and certified nurse assistants for the next 12 weeks. The company has also bolstered staffing levels amid the pandemic in Arizona and the city of Chicago.
Once fully implemented, the plan is expected to add nearly 600 beds to hospitals across the state, Parson said.
Hospitals have warned beds can only go so far if there aren’t enough healthcare workers to staff them. Nurses on the frontlines are exhausted and fatigued, and sometimes out sick with COVID themselves, leaving hospitals short-staffed.
As of Tuesday, there were 2,779 inpatients and 654 patients in intensive care units in Missouri’s hospitals. On Sunday, about 15 percent of the state’s adult intensive care unit beds remained free, according to the Missouri Hospital Association’s dashboard.
“Staffing is one of the biggest challenges facing our hospitals right now,” Parson said.
The extension of additional staff will be reevaluated come February, Parson said, noting that a COVID vaccine is on the way. The Department of Health and Senior Services has said doses could be arriving in Missouri as soon as next week, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The state plans to fund the partnership through the end of the year with CARES Act funds, while participating hospitals will pay for the remainder of the project. It’s unclear how much the plan will cost.
Herb Kuhn, the president and CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association, said it’s being looked at whether hospitals can use CARES Act funds to pay for their portion and Parson said an exact amount will be known once the number of staff brought in is finalized. Vizient will be looking for staff “from all across the country,” Kuhn said, noting that the state is competing with the entire nation for skilled staff.
Parson said it will be funded from “a combination” of allocated CARES Act funds and those approved in the $1.3 billion supplemental budget the Senate passed Wednesday afternoon.
“I think you also got to remember whatever the cost is, this is about saving people’s lives,” Parson said. “This is about taking care of Missourians.”
Health officials have urged for action in recent weeks, with many of the state’s healthcare associations, including the Missouri Hospital Association, reiterating calls for a statewide mask mandate and pleading for residents to follow best practices as cases reached new records.
In October, hospital CEOs described facing a “transfer crisis” as hospitals in metro areas turned away patients from rural areas needing to be transferred for critical care. Recently, hospital leaders have raised the possibility of having to prioritize care for those most likely to survive as capacity grows slim.
Meanwhile, cases continued to rise over the last month, with November seeing more than double the number of new infections than all of October. On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported 2,679 new COVID cases — bringing the state’s seven-day average down to 3,225 cases a day, the lowest it’s been since Nov. 7.
Ahead of Thanksgiving, officials had urged Missourians to stay home and limit gatherings, warning of a surge in COVID cases that could follow.
“Infection is upstream of hospitalizations,” Kuhn said, “and to weather this storm, we have to reduce the infection rate.”
In a Nov. 29 White House Coronavirus Task Force report delivered to the nation’s governors and obtained by ABC News, the task force urged states to make clear that “the COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high.”
“If you are under 40, you need to assume you became infected during the Thanksgiving period if you gathered beyond your immediate household,” the report stated.
It urged those over 65 years old or with significant health conditions to not enter any indoor spaces where masks aren’t worn.