Tue. Jan 25th, 2022
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A National Guard airman is trained in hospital procedures at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts last month. The Massachusetts National Guard activated soldiers and airmen to help address the medical worker shortage.  (Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell is set to announce at Friday’s White House news briefing new steps from the Biden administration to help alleviate staffing shortages at hospitals across the country amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

On Thursday, an administration official told CNN, Criswell “directed an expansion of FEMA policy to support Governors in using their National Guard to meet urgent staffing needs at healthcare facilities.” 

This direction from FEMA means that governors have more flexibility to use National Guard members for support services at hospitals.

“Now, FEMA has granted governors flexibility to perform vital support missions at primary medical facilities when, in the judgment of public health officials, doing so is necessary to sustain the provision of Covid-19 medical care at those facilities and failure to do so would constitute an immediate threat to the public health and safety,” the official said.

Those extra services National Guard members can now provide include “activities like linen and laundry services, food preparation and delivery, biomedical waste removal, perimeter fencing, contracted security guards, professional cleaning, and other related services,” the official said.

More background: That expanded help comes as cases continue to surge and hospitalizations rise. Some states’ health care systems are beset with nearly-full intensive care units. Nineteen states have less than 15% remaining capacity in their intensive care units. Four of them have less than 10%: Kentucky, Alabama, Indiana and New Hampshire, according to data Wednesday from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The rising cases have led to decreased staffing at hospitals, from doctors to support staff.

President Biden announced Thursday that the US has deployed 120 military medical personnel to six additional hard-hit states: Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, and New Mexico.

Since Thanksgiving, he said, over 800 military and other federal personnel have been deployed across 24 states, tribes, and territories, including over 350 military doctors, nurses, and medics. More than 14,000 National Guard members are also activated in 49 states. All of those deployments, he noted are fully paid for by the Covid relief package passed by Congress early last year. He said he has also directed FEMA to ensure there is enough hospital bed capacity in every state.

Friday’s announcement is meant to alleviate additional personnel shortages. The use of the National Guard will be paid for by FEMA, as authorized by Biden, through April 1.

Criswell joins White House press secretary Jen Psaki at the briefing room podium at 11:45 a.m. ET.

 

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