HELENA — More than 100 traveling nurses and respiratory therapists have arrived to help ease staff shortages at Montana hospitals overwhelmed by Covid-19 – and scores more are on the way, Governor Steve Bullock and hospital officials said on Monday.
“The situation is serious,” Bullock said in a statement. “Hospital capacity is stressed and our health-care workers are exhausted, with many unable to work, from being exposed to the virus.”
Rich Rasmussen, president of the Montana Hospital Association, told MTN News that a total of 278 additional nurses and respiratory therapists should be in Montana by the end of the week, through a contract with NuWest Group of Bellevue, Washington.
“It is a welcome shot in the arm for hospitals across the state,” he said. “The challenge that every community is facing right now is staffing shortages.”
Rasmussen said the Montana National Guard also has called up personnel to help with non-medical staffing shortages at larger hospitals in the state. “To run a hospital 24-7, you’ve got to keep the lights on, you’ve got to clean the rooms,” he said.
Covid-19 cases have surged across Montana in recent weeks, often with more than 1,000 new cases a day. On Monday, the state reported 677 new cases, pushing the total of active cases to 16,300. The state also reported 467 active hospitalizations associated with the respiratory virus.
The governor’s office said the state arranged a contract with NuWest and will assume the cost through Dec. 31 – but that those costs may be eligible for reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA and federal Covid-19 relief funds should ultimately cover the cost, the office said.
Through last weekend, 110 traveling medical staff had arrived in Montana, working primarily at four hard-hit hospitals: Benefis in Great Falls, Kalispell Regional Medical Center, and Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings.
They’re also helping at other hospitals in Missoula, Great Falls, Butte, Bozeman and Livingston.
Rasmussen said the state’s major hospitals have been overwhelmed not only with Covid-19 patients but also with staff shortages, because so many health-care workers have either contracted the virus or been in contact with someone who has, requiring them to quarantine.
Smaller-population states like Montana already have a thin bench when it comes to medical staffing, and Covid-19 has exacerbated the problem, he said.
“We’re competing with the entire country,” Rasmussen said. “Every state is on fire with the Covid surge, so everyone is scrambling to get more workers into their respective states, so we’re competing with that exact, same talent.”