CHARLESTON – While encouraging other West Virginia to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or receive a booster if they are already vaccinated, West Virginia officials are focusing on the state health system to manage severe cases.
Governor Jim Justice announced at a COVID-19 briefing at the State Capitol Building on Tuesday a new incentive program to aggressively recruit, train and retain nurses in West Virginia.
“We know we have an incredible shortage of nurses”, says justice. “So today we’re announcing a really aggressive program right now… we’re going to be aggressively recruiting, and we’re going to be aggressively recruiting staff and working to train more and more nurses in the state of Virginia- Western. “
The program, in cooperation with the Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Community and Technical College System, will focus on expanding the Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs) programs at Concord University in Athens, Glenville State College and BridgeValley. South Charleston and Montgomery Community and Technical College.
The state will also implement and expand key nursing education programs across the state by fully funding the West Virginia Nursing Scholarship Program and developing a faculty loan repayment program. of nursing to encourage nurses to help train future nurses.
“This is certainly a historic investment in our nursing workforce for the future of West Virginia,” said Dr Cynthia Persily, Senior Director of Health Sciences at HEPC. “It is especially true over the past two years that nurses have been at the heart of our health care system. Their work and dedication is invaluable. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical nursing shortages we have both in West Virginia and across the country. “
Justice said more than 1,700 registered nurses had refused to renew their licenses in the past year.
Of those, 68 percent said they did not renew because they were tired. Ann Urling, deputy chief of staff for Justice, said the state’s goal is to train more than 2,000 new nurses over the next four years.
“I think we have a good, solid plan”, said Urling.
To launch the program, Justice said he would use $ 48 million federal dollars from the CARES Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), although he said the state would continue to fund the program.
“I hope we will flood West Virginia with great, great nurses who don’t get tired.” says justice. “It just does the great job they do every day. Who are rejuvenated every day by our commitment to do something with the CARES dollars that will have a multiplier effect on those dollars within our own state. It will not be a one-time expense. “
According to the state auditor’s office, West Virginia still has $ 125.7 million in CARES law funds. Passed in late March 2020 as the pandemic began to sweep the country, the $ 2.2 trillion CARES law provided $ 150 billion to state and local governments.
West Virginia received $ 1.25 billion for coronavirus-related spending for state, county and city governments. Most of the funds were used to stabilize the state unemployment trust fund and to reimburse local governments. States have until December 31 to spend the remaining funds, otherwise the funds must be returned to the federal government.
According to the DHHR, there have been 605 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in West Virginia hospitals, up 21.5% from 498 hospitalizations on Thanksgiving Day. Of those, 208 cases were in state intensive care units, up 26.8% from the post-delta low of 164 intensive care cases on November 14.
The number of hospitalizations on Thanksgiving Day was down 50.8% from a peak of 1,012 hospitalizations on September 24 due to the Delta variant wave, which was 23.7% higher than the peak of 818 hospitalizations during the first wave of COVID-19 which peaked on January 5. The ICU count on Nov. 14 was a 44.6 percent drop from the peak delta of 296 ICU cases on Sept. 29, an increase of 35.2 percent from the 219 ICU cases in last january.
In a statement released Monday, the West Virginia Hospital Association sounded the alarm about a possible increase in hospitalizations in the coming weeks due to the new omicron variant becoming the dominant variant. All the data available on omicron has shown it to be more contagious than delta but possibly milder for those vaccinated. Still, omicron’s rapid growth could send a wave of hospitalizations at one point, overwhelming medical professionals.
“Projections show that for the 2021 holiday season, we will approach the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in West Virginia since the start of the pandemic,” the statement read.
“The vast majority of ICU and ventilator patients are unvaccinated, and the national shortage of monoclonal antibodies has severely restricted access to an effective treatment option. the statement continued. “In addition, we are seeing a high number of patients suffering from other health conditions requiring hospital care such as influenza, heart disease, cancer and trauma. This combination has put a strain on the healthcare system and now, after almost two years, the system is approaching breaking point as healthcare workers are mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 4,622 of 5,846 inpatient beds were in use in West Virginia hospitals, or 79.1 percent of state hospital beds on Tuesday. Of these beds, 636 beds (11.2%) were for COVID-19 patients. For intensive care beds, 491 of 615 intensive care beds were occupied, or 79.8% of all intensive care beds. Of that number, 194 intensive care beds (31.9%) were COVID patients.
James Hoyer, the head of the state’s joint interagency COVID-19 task force, said state health officials recently conducted a tabletop exercise to develop ideas to help reduce the burden on hospitals.
“We are looking at a variety of things we can do and continue to look to do to relieve the pressure as we see omicron and the next big potential surge coming in.” Hoyer said.
“This includes everything from working with the National Guard and FEMA on workforce issues to finding the availability of home support and oxygen, working with our community health clinics. on extended hours and the availability of services in these areas, as well as test kits for a whole variety of other things, to unfortunately include we have the appropriate availability of morgue space ”, Hoyer said.
(Adams can be contacted at [email protected])