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The Tennessee Medical Reserve Corps is looking for volunteers to help battle COVID-19

Medical and non-medical volunteers are needed. Some are paid positions, others are voluntary.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — More than 30 Tennessee hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages, and that number is expected to rise as COVID-19 cases continue to climb.

In Nashville, the shortage is bad enough Tennessee issued a call for volunteers to help out in Middle Tennessee hospitals. 

Shortages are also being reported the Mid-South, and you may be able to help. 

Hospitals here in the Mid-South and across the state are feeling the strain on the system. We're told hospital workers are physically and emotionally exhausted..

"Hospital capacity has always been concern, but we are running out of levers to pull - and at this rate of growth it will affect other critical services to you and your community," said Dr. Wendy Long, Tennessee Hospital Association president.

Long said one out of three intensive care beds in Tennessee hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients, and the number is going up. As hospitals fill up, staffing shortages are magnifying the problem.

"Hospitals in many areas of the state now have little to no bed availability, and are having to divert patients to other locations that are also filling up quickly," said Long.

Hospitals are trying to hire people as quickly as they can. Long said nurses and respiratory therapists are in highest demand. 

Tennessee is also putting the call out for volunteers. 

The Tennessee Medical Reserve Corps is looking for workers with both medical and non-medical backgrounds who would be willing to help. Some positions are paid, others are voluntary. 

"There is a mechanism through the state to make it known they would be interested, and then for those individuals to be matched with hospitals, " said Long.

Those interested can sign up for the registry through the Tennessee Department of Health "volunteer mobilizer." The state is divided into regions and coordinators send out requests for hospital support as needed.

Vanderbilt researcher Melissa McPheeters is concerned that as we inch closer to Christmas, the situation is only going to get worse. Staffing and bed space will become even more of an issue.

"If our hospitals are already stressed and if we think about it - if this disease spreads over the holiday weekend - a couple weeks from now is when we will anticipate seeing beyond what we see right now," said McPheeters.

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Shelby County Health Department leaders said they are working with local hospitals to address the staffing shortages. They said the best way to combat the shortage is to reduce community transmission.

Baptist Memorial Health Care VP/chief nursing executive Susan Ferguson sent this statement to Local 24 News:

Patient census (the number of patients in our hospitals) fluctuates throughout the day, even by the hour, but we are prepared to take care of all our patients. We have plans in place to manage resources as patient census surges. Also, we monitor staff and bed availability in real time, and we can adjust staffing as our census fluctuates. All of our hospital chief nursing officers (CNOs) monitor this information closely for their hospital, and I review this information from a system perspective (for our 22 hospitals). We can move staff to different hospitals to make sure each hospital is safely staffed, and we can direct patients to hospitals that have additional capacity through our Patient Placement Center.

We also have a rescue nurse program (where nurses from our corporate office or other areas can help staff our hospitals as needed) to help manage when there are temporary increases in patient census.

We have incentive options for our own staff, and we have attractive and competitive incentive programs to help recruit new nurses to Baptist, such as a $5,000 sign-on bonus, a seasonal nursing program and a FlexChoice program. All of these programs plus others are listed on baptistnurses.org.

Responders do not need to have a medical background. Tennessee is calling on all people who may be out of work due to business closures (such as stores and restaurants). To register today, click on one of the buttons below to sign up for the Tennessee Medical Reserve Corps COVID-19 response.

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