ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Mary Turner is frustrated by a tale of two worlds inside and outside of the hospital.

She’s a registered nurse working in the COVID unit and like so many other healthcare workers, hasn’t caught much of a break for the last 20 months. As the holidays near, Minnesota’s hospitals are becoming overrun — the situation is so dire that two military medical teams are getting ready to help plug holes in staffing starting Thanksgiving Day.

“It’s about time the public takes this pandemic seriously once more,” Turner said.

The Minnesota Legislature set aside $250 million in federal money to cut bonus checks for frontline workers like Turner as a reward for their efforts throughout the pandemic.

After months of talks, a bipartisan panel couldn’t agree on who gets what and how much and a stalemate remains at the state capitol.

Turner said she wishes elected officials would put politics aside, come back to St. Paul and sign off on the money.

“How many more headlines do you need to see? How many more times do you need to open your paper — all the legislators — and see what we’re dealing with,” she said. ”Stop playing petty politics.”

There’s been a back-and-forth between the Senate GOP, which controls the chamber, and DFL leaders in the House and Gov. Tim Walz about the scope of the special session. Both parties have said bonus checks and hero pay are a priority, but Republicans also want the legislature to prohibit state-issued mandates, like the one for state agency employees to be vaccinated.

Democrats and the governor wanted assurances from the GOP that it wouldn’t reject Senate confirmation of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, a move that would remove her from her job overseeing the health department amid a pandemic.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller — in an apparent breakthrough in the standoff — told WCCO Radio that Republicans “are willing to put any discussion regarding commissioner confirmations on hold at this time to get a special session done.”

But Walz told reporters Wednesday that no progress has been made in negotiations with legislative leaders, signaling that bonus checks could be on hold indefinitely. The regular 2022 session of the Minnesota Legislature begins at the end of January.

Walz has the power to call lawmakers back.

“I think it’s still not a done deal,” Walz said. “We’ve just said all along let’s just do drought relief, essential worker pay, help us a little bit on this COVID stuff then we can deal with the rest in January.”

But for Turner, it’s much more than just a bonus check. While they were once held up as heroes, now sometimes they’re treated as villains, asked to “do better” when they’re doing nothing but their best. Turner tears up when she talks about it.

“Whether it is gonna be $300 or $1,200, it’s the idea of us being acknowledged. It’s the idea that we are appreciated, especially at a time when I’m starting to hear things that we’re not being appreciated,” she said.

The state health department on Wednesday reported 3,759 new cases of COVID-19 and 53 deaths.

Caroline Cummings