BILLINGS - COVID-19 has claimed three more Montana lives in Yellowstone County and considering that the Montana Nurses Association is making another plea for help from Gov. Greg Gianforte to do more to get support for Montana nurses on the front lines.
CEO of the Montana Nurses Association, Vicky Byrd, says the organization has reached out to the governor a total of eight times with no success in setting up a meeting. Her hope is to get Gianforte to allocate some of Montana’s COVID-19 relief funds to nurses already working in the state, instead of putting funds toward recruiting.
She says so many nurses have given up on the job.
“It's heartbreaking so it's unfortunate,” Byrd said.
She says a profession that was already short-staffed to begin with before the pandemic, the stress of the COVID-19 has many nurses beside themselves.
“They're getting more and more short-staffed, many are retiring early, many are quitting and not even coming back to the nursing profession,” she said.
And it's our healthcare centers who see that impact as well. In November those with Billings Clinic said the hospital had some 120 nurse job openings. Meanwhile, St. Vincent at that same time had roughly 84 openings for nurses.
That’s why Byrd wants to see more resources and perks offered to those nurses already working in our state.
“What about some hazard pay bonuses or COVID pay bonuses. I don't care what you call it. Let's invest those funds into the nurses that we already have here on the ground,” she said.
She believes the governor’s incentive plan unveiled in November to entice out-of-state healthcare workers to come to Montana isn’t helping.
The program offered as much as $12,500 in reimbursement bonuses and on top of that 35% of the total reimbursement amount to offset payroll tax deductions.
So far Byrd says there’s been no communication from the governor’s office on a plea to do more.
“We’ve asked over eight times, but we're going to continue to ask,” she said.
Those with Gianforte’s office say instead the incentive plan has a lot of backing, saying the program has received support from dozens of healthcare leaders across the state, including the Montana Hospital Association, the Montana Health Care Association, the Montana Primary Care Association, the Montana Medical Association, and the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana.
And on top of that, the program is really meant to serve as a long-term solution to address Montana’s long-standing health care workforce shortage that will stabilize the healthcare system among other things.
Gianforte’s staff says the governor set out to fill healthcare positions that are in dire need both now and have been for decades.
They say the Health Care Workforce Relocation Assistance program was unanimously passed by a bipartisan ARPA commission.
However, Byrd feels there is more that could be done especially when other states are trying to lure away nurses from Montana with incentives too.
“Come to Indiana, $60,000, come to Texas $40,000 sign-on bonus so $12,000 for a move bonus and a tax break. There are so many other things out there. You know, we're all competing,” she said. “We’ve got to invest in our nurses here, it's super unfortunate.”