Long-term care providers in Michigan are welcoming a new state initiative aimed at providing additional staffing resources to facilities facing shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services announced the launch of its rapid response staffing resource program for 11 state counties Tuesday.

The initiative is an extension of the state’s testing strategy put in place several weeks ago, explained Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of Health Care Association of Michigan. The state mandates weekly testing for residents and staff members depending on the area’s coronavirus risk level. Providers in low-risk areas don’t have to undergo weekly testing, while providers in medium to higher risk areas do. 

“Part of that included the launching of the rapid-response teams,” Samuel told McKnight’s on Thursday. “This is a good thing. It’s a very good thing. It’s to help facilities address staffing issues, particularly as we are doing the testing [and] we have significant staff falloff.” 

The agency will provide short-term (72 hours or less) of continual staffing assistance to facilities that meet specific criteria, including showing they have exhausted all other options. The staffing personnel available include registered nurses, certified nursing assistants, personal care aides or resident care assistants. 

Providers do have to meet a “fairly high” threshold in order to qualify to receive staffing help from the state, Samuel noted. 

At least 50% of a facility’s direct care workers would have to call off for two shifts in a row in order to qualify for the additional staffing resources. Providers also have to work with the state’s regional healthcare coalitions to ensure, while multi-facility operators also have to work within their company to determine their workforce capabilities between other facilities and regional staff members. 

“You have to go through those steps to determine if then you would then qualify, but [the state] does bring in up to five staff in a shift for 72 hours and it’s paid for,” she said. “Hopefully, we won’t have too many providers that actually need all of that or it [becomes] that bad of a situation, but it is available if we need to and we always welcome that assistance.” 

Samuel said workforce struggles have been a challenge for long-term care facilities in the state for the past couple of years, and the issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

“I think it’s going to be a rebuilding process after we’re through this and we’re either at a vaccine or we have things stabilized that everybody feels comfortable with this type of work and making a career out of it,” she said. 

Samuel also credited providers and staff members for their work during the pandemic, despite the difficult challenges they’ve faced. 

“They’ve done amazing work and care under extraordinary difficult circumstances, particularly in situations where you have significant COVID,” Samuel said. 

“I think when nursing facilities have the proper resources — if we have strong testing protocols, appropriate levels of personal protective equipment, support on our state and federal levels, the true support that we need — we can manage this virus,” she added.