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story.lead_photo.caption Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a briefing July 27, 2020. Photo by Courtesy of Missouri Governor's Office

This article is free to all readers because it includes information important to public safety and health in our community.

Health care workers from other states will be brought in through a corporate partnership with state government and Missouri hospitals to assist with staffing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge, Gov. Mike Parson and the Missouri Hospital Association's leader announced Wednesday evening.

Many details were not immediately known, but the state plans to pay for its share of the cost with federal pandemic aid funds, and Parson said whatever the expense comes out to be, it will be worth it.

"Whatever the cost is, this is about saving people's lives," he said, adding he would disclose the amount once it's finalized.

Missouri and its health care system have entered into an at least 12-week partnership with Vizient Inc., a company based in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, that describes itself as "the nation's leading health care performance improvement company."

Parson said, "We have plenty of hospital beds available," but staffing continues to be a major challenge, as rising coronavirus infections and the subsequent increase in hospitalizations stretches health care's resources.

He said Vizient will bring in up to 760 health care staff, including registered nurses, respiratory therapists and certified nursing assistants, and that would add 600 beds to the state's capacity.

Parson said the state would pay for the partnership through the end of the year with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding, and after that, hospitals would pay for the rest.

He said he did not know whether the agreement would ultimately last longer than 12 weeks — that will depend on how vaccine distribution goes and what the state of the need for health care is in the future.

Herb Kuhn, the Missouri Hospital Association's president and CEO, said the additional staff would benefit all regions of the state.

Kuhn did not know what the financial cost to hospitals would be or whether hospitals would be able to use CARES Act funds to pay for their end of the agreement but added the latter is something being looked at.

He also did not know which states the additional staff would be brought in from, but he acknowledged competition is fierce because every state and the District of Columbia is facing the pandemic.

"To weather this storm, we have to reduce the infection rate," he said, noting he was troubled by a 40 percent increase in travel in Missouri ahead of Thanksgiving.

As for why the state selected Vizient to be its partner, Parson said it was a matter of who was available, and he was encouraged by the company's reputation based on similar work in Arizona.

The Arizona Republic reported in July that Arizona's state health department was working with Vizient to bring in nearly 600 out-of-state nurses to help hospitals there respond to the pandemic.

Parson said his administration is also continuing to look at all other options to support staffing needs.

Parson previously said using the military may be another option.

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