TYLER, Texas (KETK) – $5.4 million will soon be funded towards local hospitals and emergency rooms for those working with COVID-19 patients in Smith County.

The Smith County Commissioners Court approved the allocation of 10% of their American Rescue Plan Act funding to go towards retaining medical personnel.

UT Health East Texas and CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances will get $2 million each, according to the plan. Funds will go toward efforts to retain staff and fight COVID-19, Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran said.

“We’ve had a really challenging situation over this pandemic with many of our staff leaving the community to go and work in other areas to work for very lucrative rates,” said Vicki Briggs, CEO of UT Health East Texas.

East Texas leaders said it is necessary for Smith County to keep their healthcare workers.

“Without those critical care positions in place providing care to patients day in and day out there would be many, many more COVID-19 deaths in Smith County,” said Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran.

The Commissioners Court also approved $100,000 in funding for each of the three freestanding emergency rooms in Smith County: Exceptional Healthcare Tyler, Hospitality Health ER and Tyler Complete Care.

The types of medical staff that would get the incentives include Registered Nurses, Licensed Vocational Nurses, Respiratory Therapists, Nursing Assistants, Patient Care Techs, EMS Paramedics and EMTs. CHRISTUS would also include its Flight for Life RNs.

“We talked about the critical supply of certain positions in hospital systems and local emergency rooms that are critical to the direct care of patients for COVID-19,” Moran said. “We have a shortage of supply and high competition for those particular positions and a need to partner with our medical institutions to make sure they can retain those folks during the period of October and November as we continue through this high point in COVID-19.”

CEO of UT Health East Texas Vicki Briggs said that the money won’t solve the problem of the employee shortage, but will make “such a statement that you support them… and that you care.”

President of CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Jason Proctor said that anything the county considers to do to help them is appreciated.

“Our staff has not backed down. They’re not going to back down. This is something to say that we stand behind you,” Proctor said.

Both hospitals have put together specific incentive plans unique to their systems, and there are additional parameters required by the county before they can receive an allowed reimbursement for retention compensation paid out to qualifying positions over the months of October and November.

This is the third recent attempt by the county to address staffing concerns of local hospitals. In August, Moran requested that the state provide COVID-19 critical staff, including nurses, to each of the hospital systems like it did in 2020.

Of the 160 medical staff requested for UT Health East Texas, 51 nurses were provided by the state. Of the 230 medical personnel requested for Christus Trinity Mother Frances, the state provided 52.

Smith County also requested through the Texas Division of Emergency Management a Regional Infusion Center to treat COVID-19 patients. The state-supported infusion center, which treats patients with monoclonal antibody treatment, opened Aug. 30 at UT Health North Campus Tyler. It is currently treating 60-70 patients per day.