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North Dakota Health Department seeks to augment health care workforce, citing 'unprecedented need'

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North Dakota's Health Department on Monday urged volunteers and people with medical experience to join the health care workforce due to what it called an "unprecedented staffing need."

Active cases of COVID-19 in North Dakota have dropped to the lowest level in a month and the average test positivity rate appears to have started on a decline following a three-month rise, but virus-related deaths and hospitalizations remain high.

Hospital capacity has been strained the past couple of months due to staffing shortages, people catching up on non-virus-related procedures, and the onset of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. There were 191 virus patients in hospitals on Monday, according to the department's coronavirus dashboard, and fewer than 9% of staffed inpatient beds statewide were available.

The most recent state data showed 185 available staffed inpatient beds and 13 available intensive care unit beds statewide. In Bismarck, CHI St. Alexius Health had one general care bed available and no ICU beds; Sanford Health had no beds listed in either category.

The Sanford Health system is experiencing "a historic workforce shortage, not only in nursing but in other patient care and non-clinical areas,” said Theresa Larson, vice president of nursing and clinical services at Sanford Health in Fargo. 

“We are seeing an increase in the volume of patients seeking health care today. In addition to treating COVID-19 patients, our hospitals are at peak capacity,” she said.

CHI St. Alexius also would welcome more people to augment its frontline staff, Vice President of Patient Care Raumi Kudrna said.

The Health Department has reinstated its temporary nurse aide registration process, and the North Dakota State Board of Respiratory Care is offering a six-month temporary respiratory therapist license for those currently licensed in good standing in another state.

“North Dakota is experiencing an urgent need for more staff in our health care facilities,” State Health Officer Nizar Wehbi said. “Staffing shortages can have negative effects on patient care and limits the capacity of hospitals and health care facilities. We are asking for volunteers and anyone with experience in the health care field to join or rejoin the workforce.”

Interested people should contact the human resources department at a health care facility. For more information on temporary nurse aide registration, go to https://services.ndnar.org/emergency/. For more information on temporary respiratory therapist licensure, go to https://www.ndsbrc.com/article.asp?id=10.

Daily data

Active virus cases statewide on Monday dropped for a fourth straight day, to 3,210. That's the lowest mark since 3,104 cases reported on the dashboard Sept. 21. Monday's total for Burleigh and Morton counties of 669 active cases was the second-lowest for those two counties since Sept. 14.

Cases do tend to decline over the weekend, as testing drops off. But the 199 new cases reported Monday were the fewest since Sept. 6.

The state's 14-day rolling average test positivity rate has dropped seven straight days, to 7.46%, though it's still well above the state target of less than 5%. The rate bottomed out this year at 1.05% on July 5 and then steadily climbed to a reported 8.07% on Oct. 7.

On the flip side of the positive trends are hospitalizations and deaths. The Health Department reported 11 new deaths over the weekend. The state no longer publicly reports the county, sex and age range of newly confirmed deaths, but the dashboard totals for Burleigh and Morton counties each increased by three, to 226 and 110, respectively.

North Dakota's pandemic death toll has risen by 69 in the first 18 days of October, to 1,680.

The Health Department has confirmed 141,683 COVID-19 cases during the pandemic, with 136,793 recoveries and 5,656 hospitalizations.

More information

The state's vaccine dashboard shows 54.5% of eligible North Dakota adults and 32.4% of adolescents in the 12-18 age group are considered fully vaccinated. North Dakota has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People can go to https://www.ndvax.org or call 866-207-2880 to see where COVID-19 vaccine is available near them.

The coronavirus transmission risk is considered substantial or high in all of North Dakota's 53 counties except Griggs, according to the CDC's COVID-19 data tracker website. The CDC recommends people in those risk categories wear masks in public indoor settings. The transmission risk in the Bismarck-Mandan region is considered high.

A list of free COVID-19 testing offered by local public health units is at health.nd.gov/covidtesting. For more detailed information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus. For more information on coronavirus variants, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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