ROBBINSDALE, Minn. (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz on Friday announced he would enlist the Minnesota National Guard to help with a long-term care staffing shortage that’s impacting hospitals ability to keep their bed availability under control.

Minnesota is seeing yet another surge during the pandemic. Patients infected with coronavirus are nearing 1,000 in the state’s hospitals, according to state data. Walz during a news conference at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale said 400 of them should be transferred to nursing and transitional care facilities, but can’t because beds are full and there’s not enough workers to care for them.

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On Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported and additional 3,352 COVID-19 cases and 28 deaths.

Walz in addition to enlisting the Guard, he would reactive a COVID-19 emergency staffing pool, which allows long-term care facilities to access short-term staff to fill the need. He directed the Department of Human Services to scale up bed capacity.

It’s unclear at this point how many National Guard members will be called to action. The governor said that his health department is coordinating with long-term care facilities and hospitals to assess the need, and he will sign an executive order once those numbers are finalized.

“If we are unwilling to do the things necessary to slow the spread of COVID that will be exacerbated until you reach crisis situations like the state of Alaska, the state of Montana, the state of Idaho ended up being — where they have to make the horrific decisions of telling some people they can’t come in, because we’ve got no space for them,” Walz said.

The announcement is welcomed by long-term care providers. Industry leaders recently highlighted the dire need for more workers with 23,000 care positions unfilled. Nearly 70% of nursing homes in Minnesota are limiting admissions, and the primary reason cited is insufficient staff to meet resident needs.

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Top hospital officials at North Memorial joined Walz and Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, imploring people to get their shots. Of all the COVID patients the hospital is treating, 96% of COVID are unvaccinated.

“The surge of COVID19 is, and continues, to be avoidable,” said Dr. Kevin Croston, CEO of the hospital. “Our teams are now more stressed than they’ve ever been. And we have critical staffing shortages layered on top of that that we didn’t have a year ago.”

Malcolm noted that while other states are seeing a decline in cases, Minnesota is facing an uptick like other states in the Upper Midwest and Mountain West. She said hospitals filled with COVID patients threaten care for people facing other health emergencies and conditions.

“These are not silver bullets, these are not quick fixes, and it’s not enough,” Malcolm said of the governor’s actions announced Friday. “We need to stop this upstream with vaccinations and the layered prevention measures that we know work. I know everybody wants to be done with this, but we are truly in a critical, critical point and we all need to double down.”

The National Guard will also assist with new testing sites offering rapid tests in Stillwater, Hutchinson and Crooksten. Walz said three more sites will be announced next week.

Local public health agencies across the state will also get access to rapid tests, which offer results much faster than PCR lab tests.

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Caroline Cummings