Governor Walz Announces Actions to Support Hospitals During Omicron Surge; MDH Commissioner Malcolm provides regulatory relief for providers to expand capacity
[ST. PAUL, MN] — Governor Tim Walz today announced his intention to provide $40 million in new funding to help support hospital staffing to serve Minnesotans across the state during the current surge of COVID-19 cases brought on by the Omicron variant. Governor Walz submitted his plan for the funding from the American Rescue Plan to the Legislative COVID-19 Response Commission on Wednesday.
The $40 million will cover the costs for providers (mostly RNs) who will work 60 hours per week for 60 days to provide care to patients at certain Minnesota hospitals dealing with staffing shortages due to COVID-19.
With case counts expected to rise over the next several weeks, the Walz-Flanagan Administration is using every available resource and taking action now to help ensure that hospitals in Minnesota have more staff to enable them to provide the best care possible.
“As we look ahead to the next few weeks, we know we’re going to continue to see a sharp rise in cases from the Omicron variant across our state. To help hospitals provide Minnesotans with the most urgent care, we’re announcing $40 million in funding to increase emergency staffing support during the Omicron surge,” said Governor Walz. “This funding will support our health care heroes and help Minnesotans get the care they need. Minnesotans also have an important role to play in supporting our hospitals. The best thing they can do to protect themselves and their families and support our frontline workers is to get vaccinated, get boosted, get tested, wear a mask indoors, and to stay home when they are sick.”
“We are facing a difficult few weeks ahead, and our administration is committed to using every available resource to ensure our hospitals stay staffed and Minnesotans can get the care they need,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “My deepest thanks to our health care workers on the frontlines. We see you, and we are working to provide relief.”
Additionally, the Governor announced that the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is taking emergency action to provide regulatory relief to hospitals and long-term care facilities, allowing them to expand capacity to more easily treat additional patients. In response to requests from long-term care providers and hospitals, MDH’s actions include:
- Waiving licensing fees and restrictions associated with adding new beds in hospitals or nursing homes in response to a COVID surge and;
- allowing nursing homes to quickly expand capacity by reactivating beds they had previously applied to leave vacant and;
- permitting certain nursing homes to more easily move or transfer patients without normal transfer and waiting periods.
“Today’s measures underscore the dire situation we are in due to the Omicron surge,” said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “Minnesota’s doctors, nurses, hospital, and long-term care staff are working heroically to make sure all of us get the care we need. We all owe it to them to do our part. We are working hard as a state to support them, and we need all Minnesotans to do their part to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”
Minnesota’s doctors, nurses, hospital, and long-term care staff have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly two years. They are treating people who have COVID-19 in addition to providing emergency care, rehabilitating those on the road to recovery, and caring for older Minnesotans and those with specialized needs. And by treating some patients who no longer need hospital-level care, long-term care facilities also help preserve hospital capacity by accepting patient transfers from acute-care units.
“Minnesota’s hospitals and health system are grateful for the partnership of the Walz Administration and the Minnesota Department of Health. For almost two years, COVID has been putting an extreme strain on hospitals, health systems and their staff. This strain is financial, physical and emotional,” said Rahul Koranne, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association. “The care capacity throughout all of Minnesota is severely limited – ICUs are full, emergency departments are full, medical-surgical units are full, hallways are full, and surgeries are being canceled. Hospitals and health systems are working together hourly to meet this challenge and coordinate resources, but unfortunately, the health care workforce shortage has no end in sight. We appreciate that our pleas have been heard by state officials and the new resources they are bringing to bear to assist our health care heroes and patients who need care. Today’s announcement is an important step towards ensuring our statewide care capacity improves as we work through this surge.”
As of Tuesday, Minnesota hospitals are treating more than 1,500 COVID-19 patients, including nearly 260 in the ICU. This number is expected to rise in the coming days. At the same time, many hospitals are dealing with staffing absences due to COVID-19, further squeezing staff capacity.
Supporting our hospitals and long-term care facilities
The Walz-Flanagan Administration is implementing a multi-faceted action plan to support Minnesota hospitals and long-term care facilities facing staffing shortages and increasing COVID-19 caseloads.
Since October, the Walz-Flanagan Administration has done the following to expand hospital capacity and relieve staffing shortfalls:
- Launched four alternative care sites (in Shakopee, Brainerd, St. Paul, and Hopkins) to treat non-critical patients who no longer need to be hospitalized. By transferring non-critical patients to alternative care sites to continue their recovery, hospitals can treat more critical cases. This initiative has opened 85 beds in Minnesota hospitals;
- Secured federal emergency staffing teams to relieve staff at three Minnesota hospitals. Two hospitals (HCMC in Minneapolis and St. Cloud Hospital) are currently staffed by federal emergency teams from the Department of Defense;
- Deployed more than 350 National Guard Members to serve as skilled-nursing response teams. These teams have staffing support at 28 total long-term care facilities around Minnesota. As of January 4, Guard members are staffing 14 facilities.
- Launched an initiative to recruit, train, and deploy 1,000 new certified nursing assistants to Minnesota long-term care facilities;
- Distributed $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding available for immediate emergency grants to long-term care facilities to hire and retain employees. As of Tuesday, Jan. 4, these grants have been fully distributed; and
- Directed the Department of Human Services to free up capacity at state-operated long-term care facilities.
Staying Safe to Support Our Hospitals
As the Omicron variant spreads in our state, every Minnesotan has a role to play to support hospitals and long-term care facilities.
- Get Vaccinated. Minnesotans age 5 and up can be vaccinated. The vaccine can help keep you out of the hospital if you get sick, and that will make life a little easier on our doctors, nurses, and care providers. Find vaccines for the whole family at mn.gov/vaccine.
- Get Boosted. All Minnesotans 12 and older should get a booster when they are due (five months after receiving Pfizer or Moderna, and two months after receiving Johnson & Johnson). Researchers believe the Omicron variant is more transmissible than previous variants, but getting fully vaccinated and boosted significantly increases protection against severe illness or death from infection.
- Get Tested. To avoid spreading the virus, get tested if you feel ill. Take advantage of one of the many free testing options the state has to offer, or head to your local clinic or pharmacy. Testing options are available at mn.gov/covid19.
- Stay Safe. Wear your mask while traveling and in indoor public settings like a grocery store, a shopping mall, or a school. Wash your hands, and do your best to avoid crowded indoor spaces before gatherings — especially with high-risk loved ones and children under 5 who can’t be vaccinated.