Mississippi state-funded healthcare workers’ contracts expire
The state-funded contracts of more than 900 health workers brought in by the governor of Mississippi to support overcrowded and understaffed hospitals during the Delta outbreak of COVID-19 will expire on Sunday.
In late August, Governor Tate Reeves called on more than 1,000 health workers to step up care at hospitals in Mississippi, which were inundated with COVID-19 cases and were understaffed.
Malary White, spokesperson for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said Friday the number of contract healthcare workers peaked in September as the Delta variant raged across the state. Since then, staffing needs at Mississippi hospitals have declined as COVID-19 cases have declined, she said.
In recent weeks, the daily number of coronavirus cases has dropped significantly. The cases in October are almost 70% fewer than in September.
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COVID-19-related hospitalizations have also taken a plunge.
Since Thursday, the most recent data from the state health department, 215 people were hospitalized for the virus. Eighty-five were in intensive care and 46 were on a ventilator. A month ago, 579 patients were in Mississippi hospitals with COVID-19, 209 in intensive care and 135 on ventilators.
While the coronavirus delta surge has slowed in Mississippi, it has not disappeared. And although the contract workers are about to leave, White said MEMA has provided instructions to hospitals on how to access federal dollars to hire healthcare workers if needed.
“We didn’t just let them dry,” White said.
As of Friday afternoon, it was unclear how many contract healthcare workers would remain in the state, especially among hospital systems with sizable numbers of workers.
In early September, 923 contract health workers, most of them nurses, were dispatched to hospitals in Mississippi to meet the staffing needs of the state’s overwhelmed health system, according to Mississippi Emergency Management Agency records. State health worker Dr Thomas Dobbs said on Friday that 25% of contract workers had staffed intensive care units in Mississippi.
The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 51,672 new coronavirus infections, about 1,722 per day, as of September.
It was low compared to August figures which strained healthcare systems to the point that senior officials at the state’s largest hospital – the University of Mississippi Medical Center – said it was close to failure. In August, the state was recording an average of about 2,700 new cases of COVID-19 per day.
The surge in coronavirus cases from the delta variant has filled emergency rooms and intensive care units across the state, leaving no beds available. Faced with escalating cases, hospitals in Mississippi were sorely understaffed.
Mississippi hospitals RN vacancy rates increased from 5.9% in 2017 to 12.3% in 2020, according to surveys from the Mississippi Hospital Association Center for Quality and Workforce. Dobbs said in August that Mississippi was already short of 2,000 nurses.
Behind the state’s shortage of healthcare workers lie wages, pensions and exhaustion comparable to the demand of nearly two years spent in a pandemic.
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