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Montana Faces Health Care Worker Shortages, Requests Support

A health care worker in personal protective equipment stands in a COVID-19 testing site for students at Montana State University, Bozeman, September 01, 2020.
Rachel Cramer/Yellowstone Public Radio
A health care worker waits at a COVID-19 testing site for students at Montana State University, Bozeman, Sept. 1, 2020.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock on a press call Thursday said a request to other states to send health care workers to Montana has gone unanswered for three weeks. Public health and hospital staff continue to be stretched thin as COVID-19 surges on.

Bullock said increasing the number of health care workers in Montana has been a challenge, especially as other states are dealing with their own rising demand.

“We’ve worked to source healthcare workers with limited success to date and we know that the need will continue," Bullock said. "We’ve exhausted the unemployment and volunteer database for volunteers to work in Montana. We’ve sent out a request nationwide for National Guard medical staffing.”

Bullock said nurses willing to offer assistance can reach out to the Montana Nursing Association and people can sign up for paid volunteering through the Montana Healthcare Mutual Aid System on the state's public health website. The state is also working to expedite training Certified Nursing Assistants.

More than 90 percent of inpatient beds are full at half of Montana’s ten largest hospitals, according to the state’s latest report, and many local public health departments are struggling to keep up with the spike in case investigations.

Bullock said tribal and county public health departments can apply for a second round of grants made available through CARES Act funding to help cover the costs of more contact tracers and ensuring businesses are complying with health orders. He said the funding needs to be used by the end of the year.

Bullock also said the state is awarding Montana State University a $776,000 research grant to develop a faster saliva based testing method than the nasal swab testing.

The University of Montana recently started testing 40 to 50 samples a day, with plans to expand to 1000 samples per day. This is in addition to testing at the state lab, Montana State University and the state’s contracted lab, Mako Medical.