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Hospitals hoping to get meaningful help for worker retention in a special session

Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 7:00 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - If you or a loved one goes to the hospital, you expect a certain level of care. But that’s been different in the last year and a half.

One reason, they’re short on staff.

Remember that $1.8 billion dollars Mississippi is getting in federal dollars as part of the American Rescue Plan? The Speaker and Lieutenant Governor are asking the Governor to give them the go-ahead to direct some of that to the hospitals.

”We have over the past year, and probably even to a greater extent over the past six months, lost a number of nurses to travel agencies and leave in their hometown hospital or community hospital,” explained Mississippi Hospital Association President and CEO Tim Moore.

Singing River Hospital’s chief nursing officer says it’s forced them to bring in contract agency nurses.

“Now, if you took the contract agency nurses out, half of our floors would have to close,” explained Susan Russell, RN, Singing River Hospital Chief Nursing and Patient Safety Offier.

For those who have stuck around in Mississippi, it’s costing more to keep them. Neshoba General’s payroll since the start of the pandemic has gone up $100,000 per pay period, $2.6 million more a year.

“Our margins are razor-thin as is and we all have received some CARES Act money that helps us offset some of these costs,” described Neshoba General Hospital CEO Lee McCall as he discussed labor rates. “But it doesn’t cover it all. There’s not enough funds there that we’ve received that helps us balance that equation. Now we’ve all had to get creative and come up with special compensation arrangements to attract our staff to work more shifts or bring in some additional staff to cover those vacated shift.”

But understand this, it isn’t just a business issue for hospitals.

“There’s a lot of reasons that we all should care whether we’re in healthcare or not, because the need to have qualified staff in our hospitals when any of us have a medical emergency, whether that’s an automobile accident, or a farming accident, or whether it’s a heart attack or stroke, you need qualified staff there to take care of those patients,” noted Moore. “And in order to do that, we have to find a way to pay them.”

The legislative leaders have said they are looking at the possibility of a 5-month contract offered to workers in the hospitals. It is being viewed more as a short-term solution by some hospitals.

“That’s great,” said Russell. “That’s better than what we have right now. But, you know, I beg to ask what’s going to happen in a year, two years from now, especially as less people are going into and graduating from nursing careers.”

The governor has not yet made a decision on whether he’ll call a special session at all.

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