The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to greatly affect Minnesotans with disabilities, although some bright spots are appearing. There is hope that a summer-fall wave of cases is cresting. The news that children ages 5-11 can get vaccinated as soon as November is also welcomed news, especially for families whose children with disability are immune-compromised.
But the strains on the health care and long-term care systems continue to be concerning. At a news conference outside North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale, Gov. Tim Walz announced in mid-October that members of the Minnesota National Guard would be put on alert to help in long-term care facilities. Guard members would help during an ongoing surge of COVID-19 patients.
By mid-October there were more than 400 patients being treated at Minnesota hospitals who were ready to be discharged. But some of the long-term and transitional care facilities they would typically go to were lacking staff and unable to admit new residents.
Transitional care facilities not only help people with disabilities make the change from hospitals to home life, the facilities have also served an important need during the ongoing personal care attendant shortage. Their beds have also been in demand for Minnesotans who find themselves lacking adequate care staff. But about 70 of the states long-term care facilities aren’t admitting new residents due to staff shortages.
National Guard members will also be helping at additional community rapid testing centers that are opening up.
Yet another directive expands access to the COVID-19 emergency staffing pool, which allows long-term care facilities to request short-term emergency temporary staffing if they’re experiencing a staffing shortage due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at a facility.
Walz also asked the Minnesota Department of Human Services to free up capacity at long-term care facilities. “We have over 400 patients who … are in hospital beds taking up the space that is needed for the next group of folks to come in,” he said.
Throughout the pandemic COVID-10 patients have filled hospitals. Intensive care beds have been scarce, with 5 percent or fewer beds open statewide at times. COVID-19 patients or others needing trauma or critical care have had to wait or be transported long distances.
Use of National Guard members would also help facilities where =staffing is short. Some long-term care facilities have stopped admitting new residents because they lack adequate staff.
The staffing issues are serious. Recently health care industry leaders indicated that there are more than 23,000 care positions open in Minnesota.
“Rising COVID-19 cases have left our hospitals too crowded, and we need action now,” said Walz. “That’s why I’m putting the National Guard on alert and taking critical steps to help free up hospital beds and make sure that Minnesotans can continue to get the care they need.”
“We are proud of our continued partnership with Governor Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health and are thankful the Administration is doing what it can to address hospital capacity concerns,” said Dr. Kevin Croston, CEO, North Memorial Health. “This surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations has been overwhelming our transitional care units, causing significant backups—we are hopeful that today’s announcement will provide much-needed relief.”
“More than 18 months into the pandemic, our statewide health system is undergoing another intense stress test. Many of our hospitals are seeing a sharp rise in patients requiring hospital-level care – from emergency departments to intensive care units. Minnesota’s hospitals and health systems are working together 24/7 to meet this challenge, coordinate resources and provide the highest possible level of care to Minnesotans statewide. We appreciate the ongoing public-private partnership in Minnesota, with our elected officials and state agencies, as we all focus together on improving the health of each and every Minnesotan,” said Dr. Rahul Koranne, President and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association.
“Our health care staff are true heroes, and we need Minnesotans to partner with us to halt the spread of this virus. The mitigation measures are familiar, but still as important today as they were many months ago –get vaccinated, get your booster when eligible, wear a mask, social distance, and stay home when you are sick. Our hospitals and health systems need you to act.”