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Some Kansas City-Area Hospitals Decline To Participate In State Plan To Provide More Workers

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
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Liberty Hospital officials say their staffing needs aren't serious enough to warrant participation in a state plan that would bring in temporary health care workers from out of state.

A week after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced plans to bring temporary health care workers into the state, it’s unclear whether any Kansas City-area hospitals will be participating in the program.

Parson last week said a 12-week partnership with Vizient, a Texas-based staffing company, will provide up to 760 temporary workers to help increase bed capacity at hospitals across the state.

The workers will include registered nurses, respiratory therapists and certified nurse assistants.

Officials initially identified 12 hospitals that could receive assistance first, including three in Kansas City: Saint Luke’s Hospital, North Kansas City Hospital and Liberty Hospital.

Saint Luke’s has yet to commit, and North Kansas City Hospital and Liberty have declined to participate.

“We developed our internal surge staffing plan well before the state initiative was announced. Consequently, we are able to staff appropriately at this time,” said North Kansas City Hospital spokeswoman Libby Hastert.

Liberty Hospital spokeswoman Michelle Manuel said, “We are managing patient flow well at the moment."

Dave Dillon, a spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association, said Tuesday that it’s unclear how many facilities will end up receiving staffers from Vizient. To participate, each hospital system must negotiate its own contract with the company.

And while the state said it will use federal CARES funding to pay for workers through the end of the year, individual hospitals will have to pay for the rest of the 12-week contract.

Dillon said the 12 potential initial participants weren’t identified based on their individual staffing situations, but rather because they have space to increase overall capacity.

“They have a wing that they could have stood up, they already had equipment, and would have been ready to go,” he said.

Dillon said he’s not concerned about how many hospitals ultimately participate as long as there’s enough room for the workers who are brought into Missouri.

He also said he anticipates the need for health care workers will continue to rise, in part due to new COVID-19 infections stemming from gatherings around the holiday season.

“We’re going to be seeing vaccines beginning to hit the state,” he said. “So we’re going to be needing clinical staff to be able to administer those, and that is going to put a demand on healthcare workers.”

The availability of intensive care unit beds is already low, according to The Kansas City Region COVID-19 Data Hub created by the Mid-America Regional Council. MARC data indicates about 15% of ICU beds are available across the region. In Kansas City, fewer than 10% of beds are available.

Meanwhile, more than half of the University of Kansas Health System’s COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units, officials said Wednesday.

Of the hospital's 89 patients with active COVID-19 cases, 47 of them are in the ICU and 26 are on ventilators.

“This has been difficult since the spring, but it has been more difficult over the last month or even couple of weeks,” KU’s Dr. Lewis Satterwhite said. “We are dealing with more deaths in our ICU on a day to day basis, and that takes its toll on everybody that interacts with patients and families.”

As of Thursday morning, state officials said 1,941 Kansans had died of COVID-19. The Missouri state dashboard lists 4,383 deaths.

Jodi Fortino contributed to this report.

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