MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota National Guard will deploy 400 members to reinforce nursing staffs at long-term care facilities that have been struggling with severe personnel shortages amid the surge in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday.

The governor also proposed using $50 million in unspent federal coronavirus relief funding to help these facilities hire and retain staff. Approval is needed from a legislative commission that’s reviewing the request.

The 400 Guard members will start training as certified nursing assistants and as temporary nursing aides over the next week, the governor’s office said. Selected facilities will receive Guard teams for up to three weeks at a time.

“Our long-term care facilities are facing an all-hands-on-deck moment, and that’s why we are taking unprecedented action to support skilled nursing workers, residents and patients,” Walz said in a statement.

The reinforcements from the Guard follow the governor’s announcement last week that the Department of Defense will send medical teams to two major Minnesota hospitals to relieve doctors and nurses who are swamped by the growing wave of COVID-19 patients. The teams are expected to begin treating patients at Hennepin County Medical Center and St. Cloud Hospital this week.

Minnesota is currently one of the country’s worst hotspots for new COVID-19 infections. Hospital beds are filling up with unvaccinated people, and staffers are being worn down by the surge. The staffing shortages at skilled nursing facilities are making it hard for many hospitals to find places for patients who no longer need acute care but aren’t ready to go home.

“We are facing unprecedented, record-level workforce shortages in long-term care communities across our state,” Patti Cullen, president and CEO of the industry group Care Providers of Minnesota, said in Walz’s statement. “The actions the Governor is taking today will provide emergency staffing assistance to the exhausted professional caregivers who have been on the frontlines for over 20 months, and we are so appreciative for this much-needed good news.”

Gayle Kvenvold, president and CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota, another industry group, said the state currently has 23,000 open long-term caregiver positions, and that providers can’t fix the shortage by themselves.

“We are grateful for these emergency actions and the collaborative efforts they represent. They provide critical support for weary caregivers and the seniors they serve and provide a bridge to more permanent solutions to address staffing shortages,” Kvenvold said in the statement.

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