Some of the federal employees made up of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and paramedics sent to staff the field hospital at UMMC Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021 in Jackson. UMMC needed the help because of a lack of resources during a recent surge in coronavirus cases. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is evaluating 19 bids from private contractors to provide the state with desperately needed medical staff. 

During a press conference on Friday, Gov. Tate Reeves said the state hopes to put staff on the ground within the next week from one or more of the companies who submitted bids. The federal government will reimburse 100% of the cost for these services. 

More than 2,000 medical professionals have left the field in Mississippi over the past year, and hospitals across the state are at a breaking point. MEMA Executive Director Stephen McCraney said these workers will be able to help these hospitals utilize units and beds they cannot currently. 

“We don’t need to necessarily build a hospital in certain times, we need to fill the beds that we have,” McCraney said. 

MEMA received requests for 1,378 additional healthcare workers from 73 different hospitals across the state. It’s unclear how many of these will be supplied through those private contracts. The requested staff includes: 65 physicians, 920 nurses, 41 certified registered nurse anesthetists, 59 nurse practitioners, 34 physician assistants, 239 respiratory technicians, and 20 emergency medical technician paramedics.

If this staffing level can be provided, 771 med-surge beds and 235 ICU beds would be opened up, according to Reeves. 

McCraney said that there is no deadline on the state’s ability to utilize these private contracts, noting that MEMA still has contractors on the ground from the state’s response to Hurricane Katrina. They will contract with additional private sector partners to cycle out contracted staff if necessary. 

“Whatever it takes to get this pandemic across the finish line, that’s what we’re gonna do,” McCraney said… “There’s only so long that an ICU nurse can stay on target for seven days a week. Gotta give them a rest period, so we’ve factored all of that in, and we’re ready to go.”

McCraney also said the federal government had approved a request for 150 additional ventilators. The state has also submitted a request for 10 monoclonal antibody therapy teams to treat positive COVID-19 patients to try and keep them from being hospitalized. 

Though some requests from the state have already been approved and others are pending, one has been denied: a request for the military hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, and the 550 medical personnel on board to be sent to Mississippi. 

Reeves said FEMA administrators told him on Thursday that the ship served very few patients in New York City when it was docked there early in the pandemic. Still, Reeves said the request was more about the medical personnel on board than the actual facilities on the ship itself.

“We would welcome any of the 550 healthcare professionals that are on that particular facility that the federal government would like to send us,” Reeves said.

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Will Stribling covers healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.