Saturday, October 16, 2021

Gianforte needs to take action on hospital capacity crisis

by Jill Cohenour and Kim Abbott
| September 26, 2021 12:00 AM

Dear Governor Gianforte:

Over the last several weeks, COVID-19 cases have climbed to some of the worst levels we have seen during the pandemic, while hospitals have fewer supports. Health care workers are overwhelmed, and hospitals across Montana have implemented or are preparing to implement crisis standards of care. We have never seen a situation where so many Montanans are at risk of not receiving the care they need.

The stress on our state’s health care providers and health care infrastructure demands attention and leadership from the Governor’s office. Legislators in the House and Senate Minority Caucuses have heard repeated requests for concrete steps the state of Montana can take to help alleviate this crisis, and we write to you to share those requests and urge you to take action on them.

While some members of the National Guard have arrived at some health care facilities, many more hospitals throughout the state need the non-medical staff support that the National Guard can provide. Support staff shortages are pushing tasks like housekeeping, nutrition, and patient transport onto already-overburdened medical staff, and more widespread support from the Guard can help relieve some of this pressure. We call on you to prioritize the assignment of Guard members to health care facilities, and proactively seek to place them in facilities throughout the state--including hospitals serving our most rural communities.

Health-care facilities are also experiencing severe shortages of nursing and other medical staff and are struggling to acquire temporary (“traveling”) staff at increasingly high rates of pay. Montana’s hospitals are competing against each other for limited staff and can only hold on to the folks they do acquire for limited periods of time. We strongly encourage you to use the negotiating power of the state of Montana to secure a statewide contract with temporary staffing agencies that all Montana hospitals can rely on for more efficient acquisition and more coordinated placement of in-demand health-care workers.

Temporary medical staff are filling in gaps, but permanent full-time nurses and other medical staff at Montana hospitals have been serving their communities throughout the pandemic and are overwhelmed and overworked. Traveling staff wages have risen dramatically, but the wages of our community health professionals have not. They are being asked to do more and more with less and less. We urgently request that you use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, or other available state or federal resources, to provide bonus pay to the Montanans that have been in the trenches throughout this fight and continue to serve on the front lines. We cannot afford to lose their skills or the care they provide.

You are leading our state through the worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic so far. We firmly believe that by taking the actions we describe, you can ease some of the burden on our frontline caregivers to ensure that our health care system stays strong--and that our neighbors get the care they need.

Thank you for considering our requests.

Sen. Jill Cohenour, Senate Minority Leader; Rep. Kim Abbott, House Minority Leader