Faced with a massive surge in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, states have started advocating with the federal government to help support their beleaguered hospitals, according to several people familiar with the matter.
In a call Monday between the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the country’s governors, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast, Peter Gaynor, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency , said he and agency administrators across the United States had been in touch with heads of state in recent weeks on how to deal with staff shortages in hospitals and other health care facilities .
Apart from the call, another senior health official work on the government’s response to COVID-19 said, the agency’s awareness of the need for medical personnel has intensified over the past 10 days and that FEMA is working with local jurisdictions to ensure their hospitals have tried to resolve personnel issues. before making a formal request for assistance.
Gaynor said FEMA officials were in “near constant contact” with states to assess their needs for the weeks and months to come.
“It has been a challenge across the country. We’re going to get into a bit more demanding scenario as we go through fall and winter, ”Gaynor said.
The appeal to the country’s governors comes as states across the country struggle to maintain a third wave of coronavirus and suggest pressure on resources could soon worsen an already dire situation.
In the last week alone, more than a million cases of COVID-19 have been reported and on average more than 1,000 deaths per day. Most of the central and midwestern states have been classified as “hot spots” and are experiencing a surge in hospital admissions that have overcrowded rural and regional health facilities and resulted in massive staff shortages.
In response, state officials are looking for lifelines wherever they exist. In Minnesota, which already relies on federal nurses to help with its coronavirus response, officials asked FEMA for additional help earlier this month, with Gov. Tim Walz asking Gaynor for 10 medical professionals to help him manage the recent COVID-19 outbreak in his state.
“Right now, the number of cases in Minnesota is on the rise, which means the need for personnel support will continue to increase. This becomes particularly problematic in rural areas which require longer trips in order to provide support, ”Walz said. “We are seeing that the number of staffing positions that each institution requires appears to be increasing.”
More states are likely to follow Minnesota’s lead, the senior health official said, adding that the agency is closely monitoring communities with increasing hospitalization rates, especially those in rural areas where access to health care is needed. hospitals with intensive care units is limited.
In states like North Dakota and Wisconsin, doctors and nurses who have contracted COVID-19 but are asymptomatic are still treating patients because there are not enough healthcare professionals to take care of them. the constant influx of people.
Vice President Mike Pence, who chaired the appeal with governors on Monday, acknowledged the rise in cases in the country, saying the federal government will do whatever it can to help communities in need, especially hospitals. He said the federal government had the ability since July to access internal COVID-19 data from hospitals, making it easier for it to assess the needs of individual facilities on a case-by-case basis.
“What we want to do is stay ahead of him and where you see these challenges start to emerge, we’ll be there,” Pence said.
Pence also promised governors that the federal government will help states with personal protective equipment and other essential drugs over the next few months before a viable vaccine becomes available to the American public. The vice president said the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had spent the past few months rebuilding the strategic national stockpile.
“I want to assure you up front that America has never been so prepared to fight this virus. We’ve never been in a better position to make sure hospitals and healthcare providers in your state have PPE, equipment and access to medication, ”Pence said.
But HHS officials say under the current structure, the federal government should not be seen as a provider for states in need, but as support for states once they have firmly exhausted all other avenues for their needs.
“We are working closely and coordinating with individual public health authorities to first identify any availability in the commercial market and to help them access these supplies first,” said a spokesperson for the department. “If a product is scarce, then HHS can deploy the [stockpile] to fill this gap on a temporary basis until a commercial product becomes available. “
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