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Alabama to use $12 million in relief funds to recruit nurses

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday reallocated $12.3 million of the state’s coronavirus relief funds to hire travel nurses to help state hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

The Republican governor announced the move as the state continues to see a surge in virus cases, straining hospital resources and staff.

“I’m pleased to see more folks getting vaccinated, but we are still in the thick of COVID-19 and our hospitals are overwhelmed,” Ivey said in a statement. “The money is coming from the state’s share of CARES Act funds. Until our vaccination rates rise and our COVID-19 hospitalization rates fall, we will need the extra support these nurses provide.”

Alabama on Thursday had 2,838 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals, a number just below the January pandemic peak of a little over 3,000. But the state has a record number of virus patients in intensive care, causing hospitals to convert other areas to make-shift intensive care units. The state has 1,541 staffed intensive care unit beds, but on Thursday had 1,661 patients receiving intensive care. More than half of the intensive care patients are people with COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a nurse staffing crisis, sending U.S. hospitals into a competition for travel nurses and staff to handle the crush of patients this summer. Hospitals need more staff to handle the patient loads while some nurses have left because they are exhausted, taken lucrative travel jobs or are out sick because they themselves are sick with COVID-19.

Baptist Medical Center South in Montgomery, like hospitals across the country, has turned to travel staff to fill positions.

“It’s a national arms race for clinical talent,” CEO Peter Selman, said. He said the hospital is paying up to between $140 and $155 an hour to national staffing firms.

“We’re at our most critical juncture for clinical staff, namely nurses and respiratory therapists and we have a heavy reliance on travel nurses.”

The Alabama Hospital Association said there was already a nursing shortage in Alabama before the pandemic, but that after “18 months of grueling hours and emotionally draining work, the shortage has only worsened.”

“The dedicated staff who continue to care for Alabamians with COVID-19 and those in need of other hospital services are simply overwhelmed and exhausted, and it’s time to send in some reinforcement,” the organization said in a statement.

“This funding comes at a crucial time and will make a tremendous difference in increasing the nursing workforce in our state,” State Health Officer Scott Harris said in a statement.

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