Mississippi health workers say they may have to close floors and reduce patient beds after losing hundreds of nurses due to the recent expiration of a federal contract to help the state fight the coronavirus pandemic.
During the latest wave of COVID-19, 900 nurses were sent to hospitals across the state on a 60-day contract funded by the federal government. This contract expired on November 1 and the number of cases of the virus has dropped from the summer peak.
These nurses played a pivotal role in caring for patients during the virus epidemic, but they also helped fill another pressing need – filling the gaps left by nurses who have left the state over the past two years.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said in August that the state had lost at least 2,000 nurses to the pandemic. Nurses leave Mississippi for other states and mobile nursing companies that can pay higher wages.
Jessica Lewis, executive director of human resources at Singing River Health System on the Mississippi coast, told the Sun Herald that the Singing River pandemic has lost about 240 nurses.
The expiration of the federal contract would mean that the hospital system would lose 70 staff members and 100 hospital beds.
“It’s just a big butterscotch … everyone is in a rush, trying to find talent and keep their doors open,” Lewis told the Herald.
Singing River has joined 17 other major health systems, with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives Philip Gunn in a letter dated October 21 to Reeves asking for further assistance in addressing the nursing shortage using federal pandemic relief funds allocated state.
“We ask you to allocate some of these funds to quickly create a program that encourages health workers, especially nurses, to stay and return to their hospitals,” the letter said.
In a statement to the Associated Press on Wednesday, Reeves spokesman Bailey Martin said contract nurses are only allowed to work with coronavirus patients in accordance with federal regulations. There were 1,667 Mississippi residents with COVID-19 at the peak of the surge in hospital beds, she said. As of Tuesday, that number has dropped by almost 90% to 172.
“The contract has fulfilled its mission,” she said, adding that Reeves believes it is critical to increase the number of opportunities for professional development of health care workers.
“The Governor’s Office is discussing nursing retention programs with the legislature and looks forward to working with them to develop a solution that will have a lasting impact on meeting the needs of Mississippi’s healthcare professionals,” she said.