Kansas Governor Signs New COVID-19 Disaster Declaration After Hospitals Ask For Help | KCUR 89.3
Governor Laura Kelly responded to growing staff shortages in Kansas hospitals and nursing homes on Thursday by issuing a new declaration of COVID-19 disaster emergency and additional executive orders temporarily suspending laws and regulations on health care providers.
The disaster declaration and additional orders were linked to evidence of a significant increase in coronavirus cases after the winter break and the spread of the delta and omicron variants of the coronavirus. Thirteen percent of Kansas’ cases during the pandemic appeared in the past month. Kansas health professionals predict the state’s COVID-19 count will worsen through January and early February.
Kelly said “we need to be clear-headed and honest about the threats we face.”
“Hospitals have sounded the alarm bells about the impact of the surge on their facilities, staff and patients,” Kelly said. âThis is the opportunity for us to help. “
Kansas Hospital and Public Health officials on Wednesday urged Kelly to take administrative action amid the wave of health workers sidelined by COVID-19 and the influx of seriously ill patients. sick.
Under current state law, the governor’s declaration of disaster could last for 15 days. The Kansas legislature meets on Monday to begin the 2022 session and may pass new pandemic bills. Kelly said she would work with the House and Senate to pass legislation to extend executive orders until March.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, a Republican from Olathe, said the governor’s latest COVID-19 action is expected to provide “temporary and needed relief and flexibility” to a state health care system stressed by staff shortages and an increase in hospitalizations. He said Kansas House will continue to support frontline health workers.
âHowever,â Ryckman said, âwe do not and will not support the closure of businesses and government mandates. If the governor is trying to go beyond reducing onerous regulations for the health care system, we we will oppose these measures. â
Senate Speaker Ty Masterson R-Andover said calling the Legislature next week had caused him to question the timing of the governor’s disaster declaration. He approved the relaxation of regulations to help resolve staffing issues in long-term care facilities and hospitals. He expected the legislature to support regulatory reform related to the pandemic, but oppose “any new mandate, shutdown or other restrictive measure.”
The campaign of Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is pushing for the Republican Party’s gubernatorial nomination in August, has said on social media that the Legislature should ensure Kelly is not using emergency powers unnecessarily. Kelly is running for re-election in 2022 and will likely face Schmidt in the November general election.
“The legislature must exercise strict oversight of its use of emergency powers this time around to ensure that its actions remain reasonable, narrowly tailored and narrowly constrained,” Schmidt said. âBetter that the legislature and the governor work together this time around. “
Schmidt criticized Kelly’s early pandemic decrees limiting mass gatherings in churches, shutting down some businesses and moving schools to online education. He denigrated the governor’s imposition of statewide mask warrants and stay-at-home orders.
The governor stressed that she was not interested in issuing warrants or closures. Instead, the new orders are tightly tailored for hospitals and long-term care facilities.
The first of its new orders allows physician assistants and advanced practice nurses to order the collection of throat swabs for COVID-19 testing, so a doctor’s prescription is not required. It also allows nurses with inactive or expired licenses to provide medical services, as well as students enrolled in medical programs and military medical personnel.
The second order allows temporary helpers to provide direct care to residents of nursing homes, freeing up certified staff to focus on higher-level care needs.
Kelly said she has no plans to deploy Kansas National Guard personnel to assist medical providers.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported on Wednesday that over the past month, Kansas recorded an increase of 71,900 cases, 1,240 hospitalizations and 306 deaths associated with COVID-19.
Since the KDHE began publishing statistics on the pandemic in early 2020, Kansas has recorded 549,700 cases, 17,214 hospitalizations and 7,059 deaths. Almost a fifth of the state’s 2.9 million people contracted COVID-19 during that time.
The numbers are bad, Kelly said, but there is cause for optimism. Because omicron’s symptoms are less severe, it will lead to a significant reduction in hospitalizations and deaths as it becomes the dominant strain, she said.
Kelly has consistently endorsed vaccination programs adopted by federal, state and local public health officials designed to limit medical complications from COVID-19.
âEvery person who gets vaccinated or receives a third injection helps our hospitals and frontline health workers,â the governor said. âThey help ensure that patients seeking care in hospitals for illnesses and injuries unrelated to COVID can get the attention they need. They help their immunocompromised and high-risk family and friends.
Kelly Sommers, director of the Kansas State Nurses Association, said she appreciated the governor’s attention to the personnel crisis. But she urged the governor and legislative leaders to involve nurses, rather than hospital leaders, in political conversations to get a “full picture of what’s going on with staff.”
Without those conversations, Sommers said, the situation will only get worse.
âNurses are one of the strongest health professionals, but it has had a huge impact on their emotional and physical health,â Sommers said. âNurses provide highly skilled patient care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without leaving the room during their shift. They spend more time caring for others and don’t have time to take care of themselves. If you bring nurses to the table at all levels of decision-making, we can slowly heal the health system as a whole. “
This story originally appeared on the Kansas Reflector.