TUPELO • Gov. Tate Reeves says he doesn't plan to call a special session of the state Legislature to address Mississippi's hospital staffing shortage.
During a press conference on Thursday, Reeves was asked about the possibility of calling a special session to reconvene Mississippi lawmakers to allocate the state's $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds in an effort to address the shortage of medical workers across the state.
"I don't have any plans for a special session at this time," Reeves said. "I'm certainly open to looking to any options."
The governor's refusal to reconvene the state Legislature comes amid calls from Phillip Gunn, the speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, to do just that. Gunn wrote in a statement, Thursday, that during visits to several hospitals in the southern part of the state, he's been told that retaining nurses is the primary problem.
Gunn said legislators are working on a Nurse Retention Plan to address the ongoing staffing shortage and is ready and willing to "do whatever we have to do to make this happen."
"This could mean a special session — but that call is ultimately up to our Governor," Gunn wrote. "So we are exploring other options and possible avenues available to us to get desperately needed resources to our hospitals."
At the press conference, Reeves explained that staffing shortages were already a problem prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I don't think very many Mississippians fully appreciate the fact that, particularly on emergency rooms and ICU beds, how little room there was even pre-COVID," Reeves said.
He said that throughout the pandemic, there have been around 30 or 40 patients in ICU beds at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and even in early July when that number fell below 10, "they still didn't have any ICU bed capacity."
"I think, long-term, we're going to have a real conversation about our hospital system and where they are investing their money and things such as that," Reeves said.
On top of previously existing staffing challenges, the state has lost around 2,000 nurses during the pandemic.
"We're facing a shortage of health care workers to staff beds that are available in hospitals throughout the state," Reeves said.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and Mississippi State Department of Health worked with dozens of hospitals throughout the state last week to determine needs and hire staff to add capacity.
"Those are Stafford Act-eligible expenses," Reeves said. "We do anticipate the government will pay 100% of them, but the costs are going to be significant on a weekly basis."
Mississippi requested 65 physicians, 920 nurses, 41 CRNAs, 59 advanced practice nurses, 34 physician assistants, 239 respiratory technicians and 20 EMT paramedics from among 19 private vendors, Reeves said during a press conference last Friday.
MEMA Director Stephen McCraney said those staffing resources will cost nearly $8 million per week, and they will be working in Mississippi for at least 60 days. Their contracts can be extended if needed.
For expedited projects of this sort, 50% of the cost is typically paid up front by the federal government and as additional costs come in, they are also submitted to the government.
"Typically we get reimbursed 75% of expenses," Reeves said. "The Biden administration, on this particular expenditure, has said that they will pay 100% of it."