Up to 350 healthcare professionals, mostly nurses, could soon be arriving in Minnesota to work 60 hours a week for 60 days to help strained hospitals combat the omicron surge in Minnesota.
The deal is not set in stone just yet, but Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said a deal is currently being negotiated and nurses could be arriving in Minnesota in the very near future.
Walz said that $40 million from the American Rescue Plan will be used to pay for the critical healthcare staffing needs across the state. The nurses will come from a large staffing agency that has helped other states dealing with capacity crisis, according to Malcolm, who referred to the incoming help as a "very solid core" of nurses.
"From our vantage point, 300 nurses that we can get on board in our hospitals within the next couple of days ... will make a material difference," said HealthPartners CEO Andrea Walsh.
As of Tuesday, there were 1,522 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in Minnesota, including 257 in intensive care, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. And those numbers are expected to rise.
Meanwhile, ICU bed availability has remained limited for months, with the latest figures from the state showing just 23 staffed adult ICU beds and 16 pediatric ICU beds available in the entire state.
"We are going to be in some really, really constrained circumstances in these next few weeks," said Malcolm. "We are hopeful that it's a rapid rise and rapid decline in terms of number of cases. But these next few weeks are going to be something that we've not seen before in Minnesota, ever, in most of our entire careers – this degree of capacity challenge in our healthcare system."
The omicron surge in Minnesota, which has averaged over 10,000 newly reported daily cases over the past five days, has resulted in full emergency rooms, ICUs and staffing shortages.
According to Walsh, there are currently 1,000 HealthPartners staff out sick with COVID-19, while CentraCare CEO Dr. Kenneth Holmen said around 800 of his employees are out sick with COVID-19.
Allina Health, which this week announced visitor bans with limited exceptions, said it had an average of more than 100 staff members per day out of work after testing positive for COVID-19 or awaiting test results over the first five days of January.
If staffing shortages become severe enough, Minnesota hospitals systems could allow healthcare workers who are COVID-positive but asymptomatic to return to work, but only with COVID-19 patients.
"The CDC guidance for healthcare workers does acknowledge that in severe staffing crisis that it may be necessary to further shorten isolation and quarantine periods," said Malcolm. "It's not out of the question that that would happen here."
CentraCare implemented similarly strict visitor restrictions this week, namely for patients on the verge of death, children who need a parent with them and patients who are critically ill. Medical-grade masks are also required at CentraCare facilities.
Getting vaccinated and receiving a booster dose when eligible remains the best protection against serious illness from COVID-19, according to health officials. That's why Gov. Walz on Wednesday announced a $200 reward for families who get their children aged 5-11 fully vaccinated in January or February.
Currently, only 26% of Minnesotan children aged 5-11 have been fully vaccinated against the virus. You can find out where to book a shot here.