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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. If you have specific questions about the virus in Idaho and the state's response to it, please submit them to us and we'll do our best to report the information you need.

Idaho Coronavirus Finance Committee Approves $5 Million For Contract Nurses

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St. Luke's Health System
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A respiratory therapist at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center

Idaho’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee approved funds Wednesday morning to pay for extra contract nurses and respiratory therapists.

The $5 million request came from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to help alleviate staffing burdens at Idaho's hospitals.

"What this request is about is trying to increase hospital capacity," said Dave Jeppesen, the department director, during Wednesday's meeting.

Hospitals in Idaho have repeatedly said that staffing levels are the main factor in how many beds are available for COVID-19, and non-COVID-19, patients.

St. Luke's Magic Valley began requesting outside staff to supplement its workforce in late October, but even then it said those positions may be hard to fill because the demand for contract staff was high across the region.

“That’s caused diminished availability for traveling contract staff and rise in rates for what they cost," Jeppesen said.

Demand continues to be high; 110 contract nurses arrived in Montana this week after the governor requested federal help filling the state's gaps.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare estimates the $5 million sum will cover the cost of 150 to 200 traveling ICU nurses, medical surge nurses and respiratory therapists at hourly rates that could range from $150 to $200. 

The department will work with the Idaho Hospital Association to determine which hospitals are in need of additional staff, but it says staffing issues are affecting almost every hospital in the state.

Hospitals that secure contracts for nurses will be reimbursed by IDHW, but only through the end of December when CARES Act funding runs out. After that, hospitals will be responsible for contracts that extend beyond the end of the year.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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