ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is proposing millions in federal funding for long-term care facilities and is activating the National Guard to form response teams to address staffing shortages as the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections continues to strain health care resources.

The governor on Monday, Nov. 22, proposed $50 million in federal funds for facilities to aid in hiring and retention of staff. Skilled nursing facilities experiencing staffing issues can get funding and support through the Department of Human Services and the Department of Health.

Four hundred National Guard members will begin receiving training as certified nursing assistants and temporary nursing aids over the next week, according to an announcement from Walz's office. Long-term care facilities experiencing severe staffing shortages can request a national guard team from the state health department. Guard teams will help a facility for up to three weeks.

National Guard members are already deployed at sites in Shakopee, Brainerd and St. Paul, where they are providing transitional care to hospital patients. The transitional care facilities are aimed at freeing hospital beds for COVID-19 patients and emergencies.

Walz is activating the guard a week after the federal government provided two teams to Minnesota health care facilities to assist with care as coronavirus infections surge. Minnesota last week topped the nation in weekly infections and continued an upward trend in hospitalizations for COVID-19, straining hospital bed availability.

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Minnesota long-term care advocates welcomed the governor's move, citing the industry's struggles to hire caregiver positions across the state. The Long-Term Care Imperative, which represents two of the state's major long-term care associations, said more than 23,000 positions are open in Minnesota, and facilities are losing more staff than they can recruit.

"A crisis of this scope requires bold solutions, and we cannot fix this problem without the State’s support," the group said in a statement. "Today’s actions will help support the weary professional caregivers and the seniors they serve while we continue to work with the governor and Legislature toward a permanent and lasting solution to address the staffing shortage across all senior care settings."

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