Minnesota will pay registered nurses $275 per hour, or more, through a temporary staffing agency, to work in hospitals struggling to care for COVID-19 patients during the omicron surge.

Those are terms of a $40 million contract with Texas-based SLS Health Services that state officials agreed to last week. The agreement also allows added pay for medical workers who work as supervisors as well as overtime and holiday pay when applicable.

An additional $345 per day, per person for food, lodging and other living expenses is also included.

Under the terms of the agreement, SLS Health Services will provide 199 licensed and certified practical nurses and 20 respiratory therapists. While on assignment, those medical workers could be expected to test people for COVID-19, provide care in shelters or supplement workers at hospitals and other medical facilities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for a nurse in Minnesota was $77,540 annually in 2017, or about $37 per hour if working a 40-hour week. Pay for nurses was higher in the Twin Cities metro and lower in rural parts of the state.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced plans last week to hire temporary medical workers who would be expected to work 60-hour weeks for 60 days. The deal with SLS Health Services runs through the end of March and is funded with federal coronavirus aid.

The staffing agency is required to ensure the workers it provides have the appropriate licenses and certifications. Walz said last week that the staffing agency would not recruit nurses already working in Minnesota hospitals.

The governor announced Wednesday that more than 100 nurses would be arriving at facilities around the state this week. They will be stationed at 23 hospitals across the state, including Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

“Our health care workers have provided superb care to sick Minnesotans throughout this pandemic. But now, the omicron variant is causing cases to surge, in some cases sidelining our medical personnel,” Walz said in a statement announcing the arrival of temporary medical workers. “At this critical moment, when our doctors and nurses are asking for our help, we are providing it.”

State data shows hospital capacity is extremely limited in much of the state. There are just 32 adult intensive care hospital beds available and nearly 40 percent of Minnesota hospitals have no empty regular adult hospital beds.

There are 1,592 patients hospitalized, including 239 in intensive care, a slight decline from the day before.

Hospital officials have said staffing is their biggest challenge because nurses, doctors and other medical workers are exhausted. Many are also unable to work because they are sick with COVID-19.

Hospital leaders have pleaded with residents to do everything they can to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including getting vaccinated and wearing a mask.

Last week, members of the Minnesota Nurses Association held a news conference to decry what they described as worsening working conditions at hospitals and clinics. They described inadequate staffing and occasional violence from the patients they are treating and their families because of misinformation about coronavirus treatments.

“We are exhausted, but we are not tired of caring for our patients,” said Mary Turner, president of the nurses union and a COVID-19 nurse in the intensive care unit at North Memorial in Robbinsdale. “We are tired of being thanked for our sacrifices instead of being treated with respect in the workplace.”


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