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Legislative Budget Committee approves $10 million for hospital staffing

State committee approves funds for healthcare hiring

File Photo Trinity Hospital, located in downtown Minot, is looking to hire more healthcare workers during the pandemic.

Trinity Health will share in $10 million in COVID-19 relief aimed at helping North Dakota’s six largest hospitals maintain and increase staffing.

“At this point, any help, including that from the state Legislature and the governor’s office toward our ability to recruit is much appreciated,” said Randy Schwan, Trinity vice president. “We are facing shortages across the board.”

The Legislative Budget Section on Wednesday approved reallocation of $221.4 million in federal COVID-19 relief that was turned back unspent by agencies. In addition to $10 million for the hospitals, the reallocation provides $9.7 million through Job Service to reimburse group premiums related to COVID unemployment costs for public and not-for-profit employers. This includes hospitals as well as city and county governments, higher education and certain childcare centers. The reallocation also provides $2.6 million to the Department of Human Services for grants to assist skilled nursing facilities with air purification systems.

Schwan said nurses are a hiring priority, but the hospital is looking for staff in areas from maintenance mechanics to therapists.

Trinity has employed a national recruiter and worked with nursing schools in the past and continues to do so.

“We are just intensifying our efforts now,” Schwan said.

Some healthcare institutions are folding or consolidating under pressures of the pandemic, and Trinity scans the horizon to identify these as areas of potential staff recruitment. Trinity also is establishing a presence at more job fairs.

“We are on the road a lot more and a lot farther than we have before,” Schwan said.

Trinity recruiter Melissa Weddell said the shift to virtual events during the pandemic has been an advantage in recruiting.

“With the current pandemic situation, we are able to do it virtually, which allows us to go farther. So that’s actually been a good example of extending our reach a little more,” she said.

Trinity also has an incentive program that pays employees for referrals that result in hires.

While the pandemic has increased the demand for services, hospitals also are dealing with staff shortages due to employees becoming ill from the virus or having to quarantine as close contacts. Trinity employees have had a low rate of infection, but at any given time, dozens of workers typically are absent due to sickness and quarantine, Schwan said.

“The rate of spread and the incidence of positivity in our region is very concerning to us as an employer as much as it is as a healthcare system treating those who get sick,” he said.

Trinity employees have been working overtime to cover for the worker shortages being experienced, he said. Where schedules can be made flexible, employees are cross-training to be able to help out in other positions temporarily.

Talks are ongoing at the state level to address certification and licensing rules that can slow the process of hiring. A recent change in state law that eases the ability to hire workers licensed in other states has proved to be helpful during the pandemic. Hospitals also are pressing for a state waiver to institute an intensive one-week course for certified nursing assistants. Trinity is interested in offering both the one-week course and the traditional three-week course to speed the hiring of CNAs.

Schwan said waivers are being sought to bypass various areas of red tape surrounding hiring.

“We are working through it, but it definitely has impacted the speed at which we can react,” he said.

Trinity jobs are posted at trinityhealth.org/careers or inquiries can be made to Weddell at 857-2325.

Never a better time to show kindness

Contributions to Trinity Health’s Community Kindness program have waned with COVID-19 fatigue in the Minot area, but healthcare workers have never been more in need of encouragement.

“Once in a while someone offers to help, and our staff are just so appreciative. They believe and see evidence that the world out there outside of these walls still realizes that this whole industry is in pretty deep stress,” said Randy Schwan, Trinity vice president. “That goes a long way to help with retention and endurance.”

Last spring, in response to the community’s desire to show appreciation for healthcare workers, Trinity set up an email account as an avenue for residents to submit their donation proposals. A committee then coordinated the fulfilling of those kindnesses, recognizing them on Trinity’s social media platforms and on a community kindness page on its website.

Schwan said the hospital had only a few COVID-19 patients last spring. Today, numbers of patients can be as high as 35, the virus is much more prevalent in the community and the healthcare system is under more duress to implement adequate protections.

But the Community Kindness program continues. Proposals can be submitted to communitykindness@trinityhealth.org. Trinity Foundation also has an account for those who wish to give financially to COVID-19 efforts.

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