The state-funded contracts of over 900 health care workers brought in by Mississippi’s governor to support overcrowded and understaffed hospitals during the Delta surge of COVID-19 will expire Sunday.
Gov. Tate Reeves in late August requested over 1,000 health care workers to bolster care at Mississippi hospitals, which were inundated with COVID-19 cases and short-staffed.
Malary White, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesperson, said Friday the number of contracted health care workers peaked in September as the Delta variant raged across the state. Since then, staffing needs in Mississippi hospitals have declined as COVID-19 cases have dropped, she said.
In recent weeks, daily coronavirus case counts have fallen significantly. Cases in October are nearly 70% fewer than in September.
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COVID-19-related hospitalizations have also taken a nose-dive.
As of Thursday, the most recent data from the state health department, 215 people were hospitalized for the virus. Eighty-five were in the ICU and 46 were on ventilators. One month ago, 579 patients were in Mississippi hospitals with COVID-19, 209 in the ICU and 135 on ventilators.
While the coronavirus delta surge has slowed in Mississippi, it has not disappeared. And although the contracted workers are set to leave, White said MEMA provided instruction to hospitals about how to access federal dollars for hiring the health care workers if necessary.
“We didn’t just leave them high and dry,” White said.
As of Friday afternoon, it was not clear how many of the contracted health care workers would remain in the state, especially among those hospitals systems with a considerable number of the workers.
In early September, 923 contracted health care workers, most nurses, were spread across Mississippi hospitals to bolster staffing needs in the state’s overwhelmed health care system, according Mississippi Emergency Management Agency records. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Friday 25% of the contracted workers had staffed Mississippi ICUs.
The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 51,672 new coronavirus infections, about 1,722 a day, in the month of September.
That was low compared to August counts that strained health care systems to the point that top officials at the state’s largest hospital — the University of Mississippi Medical Center — said it was close to failure. In August, the state was averaging around 2,700 new COVID-19 cases a day.
The surge in coronavirus cases due to the delta variant filled emergency rooms and intensive care units across the state, leaving no available beds. In hand with the climbing cases, Mississippi hospitals were severely understaffed.
Mississippi’s hospitals registered nurse vacancy rates increased from 5.9% in 2017 to 12.3% in 2020, according to Mississippi Hospital Association Center for Quality and Workforce surveys. Dobbs said in August Mississippi already was short 2,000 nurses.
Behind the state’s health care worker shortage is comparably low pay, retirement and exhaustion from the demand of nearly two years spent in a pandemic.
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