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

Twelve hospitals and hospital systems in Missouri are set to receive out-of-state workers to aid staffing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, per an agreement with Vizient Inc. that Gov. Mike Parson announced this week.

That agreement with the Texas-based company is planned to bring in up to 760 health care staff, including registered nurses, respiratory therapists and certified nursing assistants, adding 600 beds to the state's capacity, Parson announced Wednesday.

The partnership will last at least 12 weeks, with the state using federal pandemic aid funding to pay for it through the end of the year and hospitals picking up the tab after that.

On Thursday, Parson named 12 hospitals and hospital systems to receive staffing aid through the agreement with Vizient — one of which was St. Louis-based SSM Health, which operates SSM Health St. Mary's in Jefferson City.

Jessica Royston, spokeswoman for St. Mary's, told the News Tribune that St. Mary's might receive out-of-state staffing aid through Vizient. "We are currently in discussions with the state to learn more about this partnership. At this time, it is too early in the process to provide any further details on whether our facility will be participating," she said.

The other hospitals and systems Parson named are North Kansas City Hospital, St. Luke's Health System (Kansas City), Liberty Hospital, BJC HealthCare (St. Louis), St. Luke's-Chesterfield, Northeast Regional Medical Center (Kirksville), Mosaic Life Care (St. Joseph, Maryville and Albany), Hannibal Regional Health Care System, Mercy (which has 12 hospitals of its own across the state), SoutheastHEALTH (Cape Girardeau) and Cox Health (Springfield).

Local hospital officials said Thursday that St. Mary's Hospital and Capital Region Medical Center in Jefferson City have large numbers of COVID-19 patients in their care.

Asked if he would be open to more such agreements with Vizient or other companies to bring in additional out-of-state workers to help more hospitals, Parson said: "If there's something else we feel like we can do, we want to do everything we can to be able to give the resources we need to the hospitals or any health care providers."

He mentioned other states are looking at "a little outside-the-box" approaches, including offering home care services to treat people in the early stages of COVID-19.

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"I rely on Dr. (Randall) Williams for his expertise on knowing what those new things are, what's safe and what we can do, but every day, we're looking at a way to fight this virus," Parson added.

Williams, the state health director, shared developments on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution front Thursday.

There is not yet an approved COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, but Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. have each applied for federal regulators to grant an emergency use authorization for their vaccines, and Missouri has a plan to distribute vaccines once they are delivered.

Pfizer's vaccine was developed with German partner BioNTech, and that vaccine received approval this week in the United Kingdom.

Williams said Missouri will receive doses of Pfizer's vaccine for 51,000 people, and a week later will receive 64,000 more doses of Pfizer's vaccine, around Dec. 21 — the same day doses of Moderna's vaccine for 105,000 people will arrive.

Williams has previously described how the vaccines may be shipped before they're actually approved, but once final approval is given, vaccinations would start immediately.

He said there will be 21 sites available for those first 51,000 people to receive Pfizer's vaccine — with health care workers and long-term care facility staff having priority — and Moderna's vaccine will be used to reach more hospitals and facilities.

Williams said 60,000 doses of Pfizer's vaccine will also be distributed starting Dec. 21 to vaccinate residents and staff of long-term care facilities, through an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and retail pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS.

He said those vaccinations for long-term care facilities should be finished by mid-January, and all 300,000 health care workers in the state may be vaccinated by the end of January.

After those populations, the state's vaccine distribution plan prioritizes people at increased risk for serious complications of COVID-19 — those older than 65 or who have underlying health conditions — critical infrastructure workers such as first responders, teachers, utility technicians and food production workers; vulnerable racial and ethnic minority groups; housing-insecure individuals and people living in other congregate settings.

Williams said vaccinations at mental health and prison facilities may start in February.

The state expects to have the vaccine available to the general public by mid-April or early May, according to the Associated Press.

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