Kansas pandemic response panel approves $50M in funding to give nurses extra pay

TOPEKA — Kansas hospitals will receive $50 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for extra pay for nurses to keep them on the job but will be required to report monthly on how many nurses they’ve lost and why under a plan a state task force approved Friday.

Kansas law required a bipartisan pandemic response task force to spell out how the $50 million would be spent, and the task force added the reporting requirement.

The task force’s meeting came a day after President Joe Biden imposed new vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans. Republican officials in Kansas and across the nation strongly criticized Biden’s mandate.

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and a task force member, proposed the reporting on nurses who’ve been terminated. He called Biden’s new federal vaccine requirements “dictatorial edicts.”

“We’ve had frontline workers — I mean, you can call them heroes — on the front lines for the last year and a half,” Masterson said.

He also said he worries that “We’re going to get some of them premium pay and we are going to give some others a pink slip.”

Earlier in the week, Masterson proposed to make hospitals with vaccine mandates ineligible for retention incentives, a proposal that failed on a 5-2 vote.

The task force also added requirements for hospitals to report monthly on their turnover rates among nurses. The change was requested by Jon Rolph, a Wichita restaurant company CEO whom Kelly appointed to the panel.

The retention incentives are capped at $13 an hour and $25,000 a year to comply with federal requirements. The program will last six months.

The more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus has caused an increase in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since late June. Kansas averaged 1,433 new cases, 35 new hospitalizations and 19 additional deaths a day during the seven days ending Friday, according to state health department data.

Meanwhile, U.S. government data showed that Kansas continues to lag behind the nation as a whole in vaccinations, with 49.3% of its 2.9 million residents fully inoculated as of Friday. The national figure was 53.6%.

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