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Officials say traveling nurses will start next month in Alabama

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 10:51 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - COVID-19 hospitalizations are continuing to trend downwards, but state health leaders said that doesn’t mean staffing conditions inside hospitals are improving yet.

“There is not a large pool of nurses out there from which to draw,” said Dr. Don Williamson, the President of the Alabama Hospital Association.

Alabama has more than $12 million in federal funds to bring in traveling nurses to help staffing shortages in crowded hospitals, but Williamson said we have to wait our turn.

“We are in line behind a host of other states,” he said. “It is probably going to be into October before we get staff on the ground.”

The state is set to hire around 235 nurses and raspatory therapists. Williamson said even though overall case numbers are declining, ICU numbers aren’t moving as quickly, so many of the traveling nurses will go to ICU care.

“This staff will allow us to continue to expand ICU capacity so that we are in a situation where we are more easily able both to take people from the ED and get them in the ICU, as well as have free ICU beds that people can transfer into,” he said.

Williamson said the staff will be distributed throughout the state to what hospitals need them most, but that means no hospital will get the numbers of nurses they really need.

“They are delighted even with small numbers,” Williamson said. “It is that critical.”

It’s a temporary solution once the new staff gets here. Williamson said they will only stay for around six weeks.

“We need in that six week period hospitalizations to continue to decline and ICU usage to continue to decline, because once that six weeks is over, unless the hospital wants to step up and absorb that cost, that traveling staff will be gone and we will back to the situation we are now.”

Williamson said once the traveling nurses leave, it will likely be right around the holidays, when hospitals tend to see a spike. He said if more people get vaccinated now and wear masks in public, it could help prevent losing progress from the additional staff help.

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