LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska state government is stepping in to help shuffle patients between local hospitals that are dealing with a surge of people with the coronavirus and other health issues, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday.
Ricketts said the state has partnered with Nomi Health, the creators of the TestNebraska program, to offer call centers that overcrowded hospitals can contact when they need to transfer patients elsewhere. The around-the-clock call centers will serve as coordinators for in-state hospitals to try to keep them from getting overwhelmed, at a cost of $200,000 a month.
The announcement is another sign that the state is once again struggling with coronavirus cases, even though most of the hospitalizations are patients without the virus. State officials opened a similar call center last year but ended the program after the number of cases and hospitalizations declined. The new call center is scheduled to open Saturday.
Nebraska’s hospitals reported to the state Wednesday that 72% of their 3,234 beds were occupied, although some facilities were far more crowded and having to send patients to other places. Ricketts relaxed licensing restrictions for nurses last week in an attempt to fix severe staffing shortages.
The big challenge for hospitals is keeping patient numbers at levels that are manageable for their employees, said Angie Ling, the pandemic incident commander for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
“Our medical staff are hurting something fierce right now,” Ling said.
The state reported 342 coronavirus hospitalizations on Wednesday, up only slightly from the 337 counted last week. State officials have speculated that the surge in non-virus patients may be due to people who delayed medical treatment earlier in the pandemic.
Ricketts also reiterated his opposition to mask mandates for schoolchildren, saying the decision should be left to parents, despite concerns from some parents and school officials that the virus could easily spread in classrooms.
Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer, also urged residents to get vaccinated but said that high-risk people who get infected with the virus should contact a doctor early to see if they’re eligible for a monoclonal antibody treatment, which has been shown to minimize symptoms. Anthone said Nebraska has 46 sites where the treatment is available, and the state’s health providers gave 241 infusions last week.