Scores of traveling nurses and respiratory therapists set to help Montana hospitals

Posted at 5:14 PM, Nov 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-23 19:56:17-05

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 news release. “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.”

Click: November 23rd "Montana Hospital Capacity" report.

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 December 31 – but added 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 Health System 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.”

As of mid-day on Monday, November 23rd, MTN News is reporting a cumulative total of 628 deaths in Montana due to COVID-19, an increase of seven since Sunday. There are currently 467 people hospitalized, a decrease of 10 since Sunday; there have been 2,377 total hospitalizations since the pandemic began. There were 1,192 new COVID cases reported in Montana within the last 24 hours, and there are currently 15,665 active cases. There has been a cumulative total of 56,743 cases; of those cases, 40,450 are now listed as recovered. There were 4,965 new tests within the last 24 hours, for a cumulative total of 617,974.

RESTRICTIONS: Tighter restrictions went into effect on Friday, November 20th, due to the continuing increase in the number of cases and deaths. Capacity at restaurants, bars, and casinos will be reduced to 50%, with a limit of six people per table. Click here to read the full text of the directive.

CONTEXT: Not every person who tests positive actually becomes ill or exhibits symptoms. Many do not; of those who do become sick, some experience mild symptoms and do not require hospitalization. Others, however, do require hospitalization, as noted in the daily update on the number of people hospitalized. However, every person who tests positive for COVID-19 has the potential to spread the virus to other people, including family members and friends, which is why public health officials continue to encourage everyone to wear a mask and maintain at least the recommended six feet of "social distance" when in public. The CDC released data in late August which emphasizes that people with contributing or chronic medical conditions are at much greater risk of dying from COVID-19. Click here to read more.