A $30 million grant-funded initiative approved by the Harris County Commissioners Court Aug. 24 aims to place additional nurses in Houston-area hospitals within 72 hours, in light of medical personnel shortages exasperated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Harris County officials are negotiating a contract to work with regional nonprofit SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council to find and hire the needed nurses. SETRAC is a chartered entity of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“We've been in touch with hospitals over the past few weeks. ... But what they told us is we don't need more beds; we need more nurses, and it's not enough what we've received so far,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. “So SETRAC has been working on identifying where nurses are needed the most, and how to provide those nurses to those hospitals, and begin saving lives as soon as possible.”
The SETRAC initiative would provide nurses to Harris County hospitals in need—whether they are nonprofit, for profit or state funded—and the expenses will be covered by Harris County stimulus funds. The county will then apply for reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will be received in about 12 months, County Administrator David Berry said.
The $30 million in funding that will be provided is a maximum amount and the entire pool does not have to be used, Hidalgo said.
At the Aug. 24 meeting, county leaders said they did not know exactly how many additional nurses are needed in Harris County or for how long. The need for nurses is an issue that predates the pandemic and expands across the state, according to DSHS. For the Gulf Coast region, DSHS predicts a deficit of 21,400 registered nurses will be seen by 2032.
Hidalgo said her office has reached out to the federal government for support on the nurse shortage, but they have not yet received any “concrete commitments" as of Aug. 24, she said.
“At this point, we can't wait any longer,” Hidalgo said. “And, you know, the state's been helpful, but there's more need.”
Hidalgo plans to provide an update on the initiative's progress in two weeks, at the next Harris County Commissioners Court meeting on Sept. 14.