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Idaho Hospitals Call For Retired Nurses And Doctors To Help With COVID-19 Surge

A health care worker gives a patient an injection in their arm.
Steven Cornfield

Idaho hospitals are struggling with staffing shortages as record numbers of COVID-19 patients arrive for treatment, and they’re calling on volunteers to fill the void.

State licensing boards are making it easier for retired nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and pharmacists to temporarily reactivate their licenses. In some cases, recent or current students and providers who used to practice in other states can apply too. Some boards have waived the usual licensing fees.

Toni Lawson, the vice president of governmental relations for the Idaho Hospital Association, said health systems are asking for qualified volunteers living in the state to step up, in part because getting outside help isn’t easy right now, with several states facing surges.

As the Idaho Capital Sun reported, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare requested 235 health care workers from other states through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

The state also asked for additional staff from the federal government through FEMA, but as of Thursday, both requests were still being processed, meaning no resources had arrived.

“We will try FEMA requests, we will look to traveling nursing companies, we look at any number of things,” Lawson said, “but we realize there’s no cavalry coming to save us.”

Medical centers and public health agencies have relied on volunteers to provide support throughout the pandemic, including with contact tracing.

The Idaho Board of Nursing started the temporary recertification process in April 2020, and has since processed over 1,000 licensees to respond to COVID-19, Tim Frost, the operations and regulatory bureau chief for the Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses, wrote in an email.

This is the biggest push the licensing boards have made for volunteers and additional workers since then, Lawson said.

They might not step right into a COVID ward, “but they’re going to fill another role in the hospital that frees up the dedicated staff we need to care for ICU patients, COVID patients and other patients in the hospital that need care,” she said.

Interested individuals need to register with the state board of nursing, medicine or pharmacy, as well as the Medical Reserve Corps at volunteeridaho.com. Then, hospitals can request volunteers with certain skill sets.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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