By Betsy Klein, CNN
Updated: Fri, 14 Jan 2022 17:16:54 GMT
Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell announced at Friday's White House press briefing new steps from the Biden administration to help alleviate staffing shortages at hospitals across the country amid the spread of the Omicron variant.
On Thursday, an administration official told CNN, Criswell "directed an expansion of FEMA policy to support Governors in using their National Guard to meet urgent staffing needs at healthcare facilities."
This direction from FEMA, which was previewed exclusively to CNN, means that governors have more flexibility to use National Guard members for support services at hospitals.
"Now, FEMA has granted governors flexibility to perform vital support missions at primary medical facilities when, in the judgment of public health officials, doing so is necessary to sustain the provision of Covid-19 medical care at those facilities and failure to do so would constitute an immediate threat to the public health and safety," the official said.
Those extra services National Guard members can now provide include "activities like linen and laundry services, food preparation and delivery, biomedical waste removal, perimeter fencing, contracted security guards, professional cleaning and other related services," the official said.
That expanded help comes as cases continue to surge and hospitalizations rise.
"As critical as our doctors and nurses are, countless other professionals keep our hospitals running. Patient transporters, food workers, and cleaning staff are all at the heart of these healthcare facilities," Criswell said at Friday's briefing.
She continued, "For that reason, with the President's support, I directed an expansion of FEMA policy to permit funding to states who elect to use their National Guard troops to fill these critical support roles in hospitals."
Some states' health care systems are beset with nearly-full intensive care units. Nineteen states have less than 15% remaining capacity in their ICUs. Four of them have less than 10%: Kentucky, Alabama, Indiana and New Hampshire, according to data Wednesday from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The rising cases have led to decreased staffing at hospitals, from doctors to support staff.
President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the US has deployed 120 military medical personnel to six additional hard-hit states: Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island and New Mexico.
Since Thanksgiving, he said, more than 800 military and other federal personnel have been deployed across 24 states, tribes, and territories, including more than 350 military doctors, nurses, and medics. More than 14,000 National Guard members are also activated in 49 states. All of those deployments, he noted, are fully paid for by the Covid relief package passed by Congress early last year. He said he has also directed FEMA to ensure there is enough hospital bed capacity in every state.
Friday's announcement is meant to alleviate additional personnel shortages. The use of the National Guard will be paid for by FEMA, as authorized by Biden, through April 1.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.