Kansas pandemic response panel approves extra nurses’ pay
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — 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 gonna 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 that 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.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Derek Schmidt signaled that he’s likely to join other Republican state officials in challenging Biden’s new vaccine requirements.
Schmidt issued a statement saying that no president has the authority to issue the mandate that Biden did Thursday. The Democratic president’s requirements affect federal government workers and contractors, health care workers and employees of companies with 100 or more workers. Private employers would have to get their employees vaccinated or tested weekly.
Republican governors in Montana and Wyoming as well as Oklahoma’s GOP attorney general have all vowed to fight the mandate. In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson is considering calling a special session of the Legislature to challenge it.
Schmidt said: “If the president’s overreaching rhetoric becomes federal action, then rest assured we will vigorously challenge it.”
Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation also promised to fight the mandates. In a tweet, U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall called it “a terrifying glimpse of the new Marxist Dem Party.”
Kansas Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Alan Cobb said employers be allowed to decide whether to require vaccinations for their workers and neither states nor the federal government should either require vaccinations or prohibit vaccine mandates from employers.
The only Kansas Democrat in Congress, Kansas City-area Rep. Sharice Davids, avoided directly endorsing or criticizing Biden’s actions, tweeting that “listening to scientists” would allow the U.S. to “put this pandemic behind us.”
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly also avoided a public position for now. Spokesperson Sam Coleman said her office is seeking more guidance from the federal government and Kelly will make decisions “based on science, not politics.”
The more contagious delta variant 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%.
Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.