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Contract health workers arrive in Montana to aid virus fight

by Associated Press
| November 23, 2020 2:00 PM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — More than 100 contracted medical staff have arrived in Montana to assist hospitals in responding to the spike in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Steve Bullock announced Monday.

The 110 health care workers are part of an anticipated total of 200 to be deployed in the state before Thanksgiving and who will remain until the end of the year.

The workers, including registered nurses and respiratory therapists from around the country, will aid hospitals that are at or near capacity as part of a contract between the state and NuWest, which provides traveling health care workers.

Nurses are being paid $88 an hour along with $1,057 for expenses each week and a $500 relocation payment, according to NuWest's ad for nurses in Montana.

Marissa Perry, a spokesperson for the governor, said the total cost of the contract will be driven by need, and the expense may be eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The governor's office anticipated 75% of the costs to be reimbursed by FEMA while the remaining 25% will be covered by federal coronavirus relief funds, Perry said.

"The situation in Montana is serious. Hospital capacity is stressed and our health care workers are exhausted, with many unable to work from being exposed to the virus," Bullock said in a statement.

Most nurses are assigned to Benefis Health System in Great Falls, Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, and Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Medical staff are also being deployed to hospitals in Bozeman, Missoula, Great Falls, Livingston and Butte.

Hospitals in Great Falls were at 82% capacity and those in Billings were at 88% capacity, the state reported. Last week, hospitals in those cities were above 90% capacity.

The workers will help fill in for nurses who are ill or in quarantine due to exposure to the virus, Perry said.

State health officials reported 677 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since the onset of the pandemic to more than 56,000. Over 460 people were hospitalized Monday.

It is likely there are far more cases because not everyone is tested and studies show some people can have COVID-19 without having symptoms. The state has seen at least 614 deaths, officials reported.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.