Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota said on Friday that he would call upon the state’s National Guard to help ease staffing shortages that have kept hospitals from transferring Covid-19 patients for stepped-down care at long-term care facilities.
Mr. Walz called the transfers a “very typical thing in our medical system” and said they had been bottlenecked by capacity at those facilities. He said the National Guard will be given the training necessary to provide long-term care. He did not say how many soldiers will provide that relief, but said it will be “a fairly large contingent.”
The governor traveled to North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, just outside Minneapolis, to announce the plan.
North Memorial’s chief executive, Dr. Kevin Croston, said his organization was struggling with staff shortages it did not have a year ago. “Our teams are now more stressed than they’ve ever been,” he said, adding that the “roller coaster” his employees are experiencing is happening all over Minnesota.
Last week, the state’s health commissioner, Jan Malcolm, said the staffing shortages among health care workers stemmed from “the extreme stress and burnout that they have faced for over 18 months now.”
The state is facing another surge of cases. Patients infected with coronavirus are nearing 1,000 in the state’s hospitals, according to state data. Cases in Minnesota are up 20 percent in the last two weeks, as are hospitalizations, according to a New York Times database.
Mr. Walz said that 400 of the patients currently hospitalized for Covid-19 should be transferred to lower-level care but beds at those facilities are not available — and those 400 hospital patients are taking up space needed for incoming patients.
LeadingAge Minnesota, the largest association of organizations caring for the state’s seniors, said in a statement that the governor’s plan will not solve the root causes of the staffing shortages. The trade group called on lawmakers to make immediate wage increases to support retention during a time when the industry is seeing record levels of burnout and turnover.
The state also announced that an emergency staffing pool would be reactivated, a measure used earlier in the pandemic.
State Representative Anne Neu Brindley, a Republican, issued a statement Friday saying Walz’s plan was “merely a band-aid that won’t outweigh destructive government policies,” according to the Star Tribune. She said policies like vaccine mandates are “driving health care worker resignations and layoffs.”
Andy Cochrane, chief hospital officer at North Memorial Health, said at the conference that 96 percent of intensive care patients at the system’s hospitals in Robbinsdale and Maple Grove who tested positive for coronavirus are unvaccinated.
Nearly 60 percent of Minnesotans are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, and Mr. Walz is urging a push for more. “Don’t end up in the hospital if you can help it,” he said. “One of the ways you can do that is: Get vaccinated.”