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Special session unlikely as hospitals face capacity & staffing issues

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Throughout the latest wave of the pandemic, hospitals in Mississippi have become increasingly strained due to a surge in admissions and well-documented staffing issues. 

Capacity issues exist in facilities across the state, including at the University of Mississippi Medical Center where two field hospitals have been set up in the parking garage to create additional bed space. The staffing issue is currently being addressed through federal resource requests as Mississippi has lost more than 2,000 nurses over the past year. 

In order to address those losses, several prominent members of the Mississippi Legislature have expressed that a special session could be beneficial. The session would allow lawmakers to allocate a portion of the state’s $1.8 billion windfall from the American Rescue Plan to increase funding for hospitals and attract healthcare professionals back to the state. 

This includes Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, who told SuperTalk Mississippi that the Legislature “stands ready to do whatever it takes to get us past the pandemic.”

“I favor doing whatever we have to do to get relief on the ground…If that includes a special session, I’m not opposed to that. There are dollars that we have right now available to us. The number one need that the doctors and hospitals have right now is the nurses. We talk about ICU beds and they said ‘we can make ICU beds but we have no point in doing that right now because we don’t have the nurses to staff them’,” Gunn said.

Gunn mentioned that his staff is working on a “nurse retention program” while also assisting in the effort to bring out-of-state nurses to Mississippi in the interim. 

Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann has been similarly supportive of potentially bringing lawmakers back to the capitol to discuss solutions, but that power ultimately belongs to Governor Tate Reeves.

Thursday, the governor was asked about the possibility of calling a special session and it appears unlikely that he will do so. 

“I don’t have any plans for a special session at this time. I’m certainly open to looking to any options,” he said. 

Related: Governor updates pandemic response, reaffirms stance against mask mandate

Governor Reeves then went on to say that hospital capacity has been a longstanding issue in Mississippi before questioning where systems are investing their money. He also noted that staffing is the main concern and that the process of bringing in additional personnel is ongoing. 

Federal teams have already arrived at UMMC and the North Mississippi Medical Center with additional teams helping to administer monoclonal antibody treatments across the state. Overall, the state has requested hundreds of healthcare workers which, if approved, officials say would open up over 770 hospital beds and 235 ICU beds in the state. These resources would be paid for by the federal government.

House Minority Leader Robert Johnson has also pushed for a special session call and detailed how the funding could help to retain staff in the healthcare field.

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