BOSTON (AP) — Curtailing unnecessary emergency department visits and letting qualified physician assistants practice independently are some of the new steps announced Friday by Gov. Charlie Baker to help make sure hospitals can serve those in need of acute care in the face of continuing staffing shortages.

Other measures announced by the state Department of Public Health include providing greater staffing flexibility for dialysis units and allowing foreign-trained physicians to qualify for licensure more easily.

The state's health care system has been facing a critical staffing shortage, which has contributed to the loss of approximately 700 medical/surgical and ICU hospital beds since the beginning of 2021, according to the Baker administration.

Hospitals are also seeing many more patients than usual, the majority due to non-COVID-19-related reasons.

“Our healthcare system continues to experience significant workforce and capacity constraints due to longer than average hospital stays, separate and apart from the challenges brought on by COVID,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a statement.

“These additional actions by DPH will allow for flexibility to preserve our hospital capacity in the coming weeks," she added.

Emergency departments across the state, like all other healthcare systems, are experiencing significant staff shortages and long wait times for care.

To make sure critical resources are available for those with a medical emergency, individuals shouldn't seek emergency care for routine health care needs, COVID-19 testing or vaccination, but instead contact their primary care providers, Sudders said.

These actions are in addition to the deployment of additional Massachusetts National Guard staff recently posted at acute care hospitals.

Copyright 2022. Western Mass News (WGGB/WSHM). All rights reserved.

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