LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri plans to bring in hundreds of health care workers from other states to help provide care as already-stretched hospitals prepare for a potential increase in COVID-19 cases resulting from the Thanksgiving holiday.
Gov. Mike Parson and Herb Kuhn, president and CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association, announced Wednesday that the state would partner with Vizient, a private national health care company, to recruit up to 760 more health care workers for Missouri.
Kuhn said the partnership comes as early data raised concern about a potential surge in new COVID-19 cases because of Thanksgiving travel. He said data showed Missourians’ travel for recreation and retail increased an average of 40 percent daily from Nov. 23 to Thanksgiving Day.
“In the days and weeks ahead as these workers arrive, they will provide essential support to our hospitals and health care workers, those who have been on the front lines of care since March,” he said. “These extra skilled care givers are essential to address staff shortages that are presenting a critical threat to hospital capacity here in Missouri.”
Parson said the state would use federal stimulus money to pay for Vizient, a Texas-based company, to provide the care for at least the next 12 weeks. The cost will be paid by the state and hospital partners.
The workers will include registered nurses, respiratory therapists and certified nurse assistants. When fully deployed, the plan will add nearly 600 hospital beds to Missouri’s statewide bed capacity, Parson said.
As of Wednesday, Missouri recorded a daily average of 2,827 new cases of COVID-19 over the past seven days, raising its total since the pandemic started to 305,370 confirmed cases. As of Sunday — the latest data available — the state reported that 2,651 people were hospitalized in Missouri with COVID-19 and that only 27 percent of the state’s inpatient hospital beds were unoccupied.
“Staffing is one of the biggest challenges facing our hospitals right now,” Parson said. “The issue is not so much about physical beds or space. We have plenty of hospital beds available. The issue is that there aren’t enough doctors and nurses to staff these beds.”
Details of where the workers will come from and the cost of the program were not yet available.
Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the state should receive 51,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine soon after a Dec. 10 meeting of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration vaccine advisory committee. Doses of a vaccine from Moderna are expected the week of Dec. 21, if emergency authorization is approved. Department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said Wednesday that roughly 105,000 doses of that vaccine were expected.
The state has chosen 10 sites around the state that could vaccinate about 35,000 health care workers and long-term care facility staff first, followed by residents of long-term care facilities, Williams said.
Those vaccinations are expected to be completed by the end of January. About 3 million “critical infrastructure” workers, such as first responders, teachers and workers at food manufacturing plants should be vaccinated by February, and the state expects to have the vaccine available to the general public by mid-April or early May, he said.
Even as cases surge, some health officials in St. Louis County and Kansas City are getting pushback after closing some bars and restaurants in recent days for violating coronavirus restrictions.
St. Louis County health inspectors shut down on Tuesday four businesses that they said violated a ban on indoor service at restaurants and bars. And Kansas City health inspectors closed five businesses over Thanksgiving weekend — four for violating a 10 p.m. curfew and one for hosting a large gathering.
Opponents of the restrictions contend that public officials, such as St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, should not have unilateral authority to close or restrict businesses.
Lucas noted in a statement Tuesday that 4,000 Missourians have died from COVID-19.
“We stand by our responsible steps to keep people safe,” Lucas said. “Missouri courts have held consistently that our communities have the right to protect public health. We will continue to do so.”