Virus surge, staff shortages hit Minnesota nursing homes

Published 11:43 am Wednesday, November 25, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A surge in COVID-19 cases has led to critical staffing shortages at some Minnesota nursing homes and assisted living facilities, forcing the state to send the National Guard to help out and ask all state employees to consider volunteering in facilities.

New data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows 90% of the state’s nursing homes and 58% of assisted-living facilities have active virus outbreaks. The data includes more than 70 senior care homes that didn’t have any COVID-19 infected residents one month ago, the Star Tribune reported.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Tuesday that 47 long-term care facilities are in “a crisis staffing situation” and are receiving active support from the state, including help from federal health nurses.

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Gov. Tim Walz’s administration has taken the unusual step of emailing all state employees and asking them to consider volunteering for two-week stints in long-term care facilities, particularly in greater Minnesota. The email, which was sent to the heads of all state agencies, says no prior experience is required, and the state would cover travel and temporary housing costs.

“We’re trying to really turn over every stone, so to speak, to think about ways to support the staffing needs across the healthcare continuum, but particularly in long-term care, with the number of health care workers in these settings that continue to be exposed,” Malcolm said.

In the last month, the National Guard has been called to help with emergency staffing in eight long-term care facilities. Of those eight recent calls, seven are for homes beyond the Twin Cities metro area, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

Overall, long-term care facilities have been tied to 2,244 deaths since the start of the pandemic, representing 68% of all COVID-19 deaths statewide.

At Franklin Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, a 40-bed nursing home in south-central Minnesota, 31 residents and 17 staff have been infected since early November. As of Tuesday, six residents had died, a spokesman for the home said.

“This is real, and it doesn’t matter what you believe,” Josh Domeier, the nursing home administrator, said in a video update on Facebook. “I am watching residents who were just fine yesterday who are tanking today, and my head has been thrown and spun in hundreds of directions.”