Newsom order allows medical retirees and student nurses to join COVID-19 fight

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Students in Cuesta College’s registered nursing program, whose academic years were just cut short by the onset of COVID-19, could soon be joining the fight against the virus.

Bracing for a surge in cases statewide, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on March 30 to allow the temporary waiving of licensing requirements for student nurses and doctors as well as recently retired medical professionals.

The California Health Corps, as it’s called, could expand the state’s health care workforce by as many as 37,000, as officials prepare for the number of COVID-19 patients to outpace available medical facilities and workers.



“If you’re a nursing school student, a medical school student, we need you,” Newsom said in a March 30 press conference. “If you’ve just retired in the last few years, we need you.”

Newsom called on doctors, nurses, mental health experts, EMTs, pharmacists, phlebotomists, experts in respiratory care, technicians, and administrators to sign up for the California Health Corps.

Local health officials are making the same calls for help—and the community is responding.

According to the San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services, as of March 30, more than 200 recently retired, part-time, or student health care workers have come forward to sign up to work.

The nursing students at Cuesta College are among them, according to college spokesperson Ritchie Bermudez. Bermudez told New Times that Cuesta students are “on the list” to help staff an alternative care facility that SLO County is constructing at the Cal Poly Rec Center, which will handle overflow COVID-19 patients.
‘WE NEED YOU’ Retired, part-time, and student doctors and nurses will help staff this overflow care facility currently under construction at the Cal Poly Rec Center to combat COVID-19. - IMAGE COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • ‘WE NEED YOU’ Retired, part-time, and student doctors and nurses will help staff this overflow care facility currently under construction at the Cal Poly Rec Center to combat COVID-19.

“They’re still sorting out the details,” Bermudez said, adding that it’s still unclear how many students would be eligible to work at the site.

The alternative care site at Cal Poly has the capacity to house 931 beds, and it will open in phases as necessary, according to the county, starting with a 165-bed “phase one” slated to open on April 8.

The facility is designed to be able to provide care for COVID-19 patients who are too sick to isolate at home but not sick enough to require acute hospital care, according to SLO County Public Health.

At a March 30 press briefing, SLO County Emergency Services Director Wade Horton said that the alternative site has adequate staffing and supplies for only its first phase.

“We believe we have the required staffing to start that first 165-bed facility, however if we need to expand it out, we need more people,” Horton said. “If you’re watching, please go to readyslo.org and sign up.”

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