Eight additional contract employees, including nurses and respiratory therapists, have joined the team at OCH Regional Medical Center to assist with staffing shortages as a result of the COVID-19 surge. The temporary personnel were deployed as part of Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s (MEMA) response to provide medical personnel to 61 hospitals statewide to meet the staffing shortages due to the COVID pandemic.

“OCH is grateful to MEMA for addressing a crisis situation by providing supplemental nurses and respiratory therapists during our greatest time of need,” said OCH Administrator/CEO Jim Jackson. “Our staff continue to meet the challenges brought on by the latest surge in COVID patients. Their dedication, loyalty and service is to be commended, and we are forever thankful.”

MEMA is requesting an expedited federal reimbursement from FEMA to cover the costs of the medical staffing contracts. The contracted employees have traveled from as far away as New York, Texas, Georgia and Florida and several are lodging at the hospital. Starting their first week at OCH on Monday, August 30, the hospital had 17 COVID inpatients; the most cases the hospital has had at one time, and a spike from five COVID inpatients one month prior on July 30.


OCH Nurse Educator Lindsey Wilkes, RN, who is orienting the nurses to hospital-specific policies and procedures, said the staff showed up ready to hit the ground running and willing to pitch in wherever needed.

“These travelers are not new to this process. They have worked in hospitals nationwide, and I’m very proud to say they have bragged on how warm and welcoming our OCH family has been to them. Having these additional staff creates a better nurse-to-patient ratio allowing more personalized care for our patients, which is what we strive to provide,” said Wilkes.

In addition to nursing staff, MEMA also deployed four respiratory therapists, a specialty that has been in high demand and short supply during a pandemic caused by a disease that attacks the respiratory system. OCH Respiratory Therapist Eddie High, RRT, serves as the critical education specialist in the OCH Respiratory Therapy Department and is responsible for orienting all new therapists before they treat patients.

From left: Respiratory Therapists Christopher Foster, Princess Clasen, Keisha Johnson, Alpha Smith and OCH Respiratory Therapist Eddie High

“My job is to ensure our patients are getting good, competent respiratory care, and all of our MEMA therapists have impressed me with their knowledge. We are thrilled they are here,” said High. “How I explain our job to the public is that we are the people who help you breathe when it’s hard for you to breathe. We have to be competent to care for all age groups, from the beginning of life to the end.”

Christopher Foster, RRT, lives in New York City and has traveled to areas hardest-hit during the COVID pandemic, including Nebraska, Florida and now Mississippi.

“I heard your area was in need, and the company I work for set me up to come here,” said Foster. “The technology is current, and everyone is very nice and welcoming. Being at a smaller hospital, everyone tends to automatically know who you are when they see a new face.”

The temporary personnel have been assigned to areas throughout the hospital where COVID patients are being treated, including the ER, COVID unit and ICU. The contract for the temporary staff covers a 60-day period, ending in October.

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