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Montana health care workers stretched thin, governor says

Montana health care workers stretched thin, governor says

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Gov. Steve Bullock outlined more funds for local and tribal public health departments and detailed an increasing shortage for available health care workers in the state as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge.

During a Thursday press conference, Bullock said the state was beginning to see a shortage of health care workers. Some requests to the state to help fill personnel in areas across Montana are being filled, but sourcing those workers was becoming increasingly difficult, he said.

Tribal areas especially are in need of staff support, he said. Of more than 80 personnel, who were a mixture of civilian volunteers and Montana National Guard members, 70 were stationed in tribal areas.

“We already have strains on our health care workforce and that will continue to grow with increasing hospitalizations,” he said.

Bullock said the state sent a request several weeks ago to the nationwide National Guard requesting medical staff, but have yet to hear back.

The state has also exhausted its own volunteer database for staff, and is working to expedite licensing for Certified Nursing Assistants.

On Thursday, there were 10 pending requests for health care staff across Montana, the majority seeking registered nurses, he said.

Bullock urged health care workers to consider paid volunteering through the state to help with the shortage of workers.

“I’d ask if you are a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, paramedic, EMT, CNA or contact tracer and are able to join our workforce please do consider joining our team,” he said.

Information on volunteering through Montana’s Healthcare Mutual Aid System may be found at dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth.

A Great Falls hospital’s chief medical officer echoed Bullock’s plea, saying hospitals are stretched thin.

“The number of positive COVID-19 cases are rising so quickly it is threatening to overwhelm resources in this state,” Dr. Bridget Brennan of Benefis Health System said.

Brennan said the hospital has begun to see patients transferred across Montana from hospitals with full Intensive Care Units.

A total of 301 people were reported to be actively hospitalized Thursday, which is the highest number of active hospitalizations in the state since the pandemic began. More than 21,000 people in Montana have been sickened and 230 have died.

Five out of 10 of Montana’s largest hospitals had more than 90% of their bed space occupied as of Wednesday, according to a report by DPHHS.

In Yellowstone County the hospitals have been nearly overwhelmed. Thursday, 112 people were hospitalized in the county, an all-time high.

Earlier this week, Billings Clinic confirmed it had contracted with a company that provides refrigerated trucks for the storage of bodies so that a truck could be on standby if the hospital exceeds its morgue capacity.

The hospital also has converted offices into hospital rooms to deal with the surge of COVID-19 patients.

Testing

The state is not experiencing a shortage in testing capacity or supplies, Bullock said. Both the University of Montana and Montana State University have begun testing on their campuses.

Bullock said an additional wave of CARES Act funding for public health departments strained under the pandemic would be dispersed by Dec. 31.

“This has been used by tribal and local offices to support contact tracing and assist with case investigations,” he said. “And ensure that businesses are being compliant with following guidelines.”

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