Governor Kay Ivey allocates $12 million in COVID-19 funds to bring travel nurses to Alabama hospitals

By Mike Cason 

Nurse Jesse Phelps, left, works on a COVID-19 patient as a family member looks on at East Alabama Medical Center in the intensive care unit Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Opelika, Ala. The medical center faces a new influx of COVID-19 patients as the pandemic intensifies. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)AP

Gov. Kay Ivey has reallocated $12.3 million in federal funds Alabama received for assistance with COVID-19 to bring qualified travel nurses from other states to work temporarily in Alabama hospitals.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris designated a nurse shortage as the most urgent need as Alabama continues to battle a surge in COVID-19 cases that has filled hospitals. The Alabama Department of Public Health will work with the Alabama Hospital Association to recruit the nurses, the governor’s office said.

“I’m pleased to see more folks getting vaccinated, but we are still in the thick of COVID-19 and our hospitals are overwhelmed,” Ivey said in a press release. “In consideration of the current surge of the virus and the strain on our dedicated healthcare professionals, I have directed the $12.3 million of CARES Act funding be reallocated to recruit more trained staff to our nursing corps. Until our vaccination rates rise and our COVID-19 hospitalization rates fall, we will need the extra support these nurses provide.”

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, and Danne Howard, deputy director of the association, issued a statement about the nursing shortage and the decision to use CARES Act funds.

“Alabama’s hospitals were already facing a nursing shortage prior to the pandemic, and after 18 months of grueling hours and emotionally draining work, the shortage has only worsened,” they said. “The dedicated staff who continue to care for Alabamians with COVID-19 and those in need of other hospital services are simply overwhelmed and exhausted, and it’s time to send in some reinforcement. We are grateful to the governor and other state leaders for making this happen.

“Every hospital in our state needs support right now. The lack of ICU beds, negative 120 at last count, is a direct result of not having enough staff, and that’s a crisis that cannot continue.” The $12.3 million for nurses comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security law (CARES Act) passed by Congress last year. Alabama received $1.8 billion for its Coronavirus Relief Fund. The state Finance Department has allocated most of the money