Gov. Walz taps $40M in COVID relief funding to ease hospital staffing strain

COVID-19 Press Conference
Gov. Tim Walz announces plans to spend federal COVID-19 relief aid on hiring temporary nurses to address staffing shortages outside of Regions Hospital in St. Paul on Wednesday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Updated: 2:38 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz is tapping $40 million in COVID-related funding to relieve capacity pressure on hospitals.

The state will spend that money to hire more than 350 temporary workers to work 60 hours a week for 60 days in hospitals around Minnesota.

The news comes as hospitals face unprecedented staffing shortages in part due to employees out sick with the highly contagious omicron variant. As of Tuesday, Minnesota hospitals were treating more than 1,500 COVID-19 patients, including nearly 260 in the ICU. That number is expected to rise in the coming days.

Walz said today that this effort is meant to help the state get through some difficult weeks ahead as this latest wave of omicron cases crests.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

“I would note that we're going to have a pretty challenging couple of weeks here. That's why we're taking this extraordinary action,” said Walz during a news conference Wednesday.

Hospitals all around the state have been reporting that hundreds of their employees are calling in sick all at once, either they have COVID or have symptoms and are waiting on test results to determine if they do.

Just within the HealthPartners system, which employs 26,000 people, president and CEO Andrea Walsh said more than 1,000 workers are out with COVID-19.

Those absences have an impact on patient care, she said.

"Our clinicians and care roles are concerningly short-staffed across the board. So like early in the pandemic, hospitals across the state — all of us — have had to delay and defer care,” said Walsh. “We've had to cancel surgeries and needed treatment. That, too, is not sustainable and is concerning to all of us."

Walz said the best way to help hospitals is for more people to get vaccinated and boosted against the virus.

"Those that are vaccinated are 17 times less likely to end up in the hospital and 20 times less likely to die of omicron," he said.

The money comes from a $500 million fund the state Legislature gave Walz authority to spend, and he says it will be mostly used to hire nurses.

The governor also announced several emergency actions designed to provide regulatory relief to hospitals and long-term care facilities, including waiving some licensing fees and restrictions on beds and allowing certain nursing homes to more easily move or transfer patients.