The state of Minnesota has launched an “urgent hiring initiative” to help long-term care facilities struggling with staffing amid a rise in COVID-19 cases, top officials announced this week. 

“Pre-COVID, we have had staffing shortages in care settings across Minnesota, but what we’re experiencing right now is really something different,” explained Daniel Pollock, assistant commissioner of continuing care for older adults at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. 

“As staff test positive for COVID-19, they’re having to quarantine, which leaves care facilities in a precarious position,” Pollock told local media.

The Minnesota program is part of the state’s long-term care battle plan, which was approved and funded through earlier coronavirus relief legislation. The initiative aims to develop a pool of 500 available workers that can be deployed to nursing homes at least 14 days at time. 

The program will pay entry-level healthcare workers, which includes certified nursing assistants, up to $25 per hour; licensed practical nurses up to $35 per hour; and registered nurses up to $50 per hour. It may also cover travel, lodging and per diem reimbursement, depending on the situation. 

Workforce struggles have been a key issue for providers all over, with many saying the issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Earlier this week at a summit for certified nursing assistants, a top official at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services pledged the issue will remain a key focus for the agency in the months and years to come.

“In the worst-case scenario, in a handful of cases, we’ve had to have National Guard members come to the facility to really be the backup. That’s got to be our last resort,” Pollock reported. “What we are trying to do with this program is to make sure we never get to the point where we have to evacuate anyone.” 

Providers who have enlisted additional help through the battle plan said the support has been “vital” and helped them get through “a really critical time.” 

“Several days there, we were really in a tight staff crisis. We had the best backup plans in the world, but even the best backup plans can fail,” explained Paul Gaebe, administrator and CEO of Mother of Mercy in Albany, MN. The senior living facility offers skilled nursing care, assisted and independent living and memory care.