BISMARCK — The North Dakota Emergency Commission has approved spending $15 million to shore up staffing at hospitals on the brink of overload from the state's COVID-19 outbreak.

The all-Republican commission voted on Monday, Nov. 23, to give the funds as grants to mostly large North Dakota hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients. The state dedicated $10 million in grants to hospitals last month, but the funding approved Monday must still be passed by the Legislature's Budget Section next week.

Hospitals across the state are teetering on full capacity due to staffing shortages. The virus has taken many nurses out of action as they recover, quarantine or wait for test results, but North Dakota's nursing shortage dates back to before the pandemic. The situation is so dire that 60 Air Force nurses were deployed to the state's hospitals last week.

The funding approved by the commission comes from the state's $1.25 billion allocation of the federal coronavirus aid package known as the CARES Act. North Dakota has previously used the massive influx of money to fund unemployment checks, create grant programs for businesses and strengthen the Department of Health's pandemic response.

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The commission on Monday also approved $8 million to expand a grant program for restaurants, bars and entertainment venues to now include hotels and motels. Under the program, operators of hotels and motels would be eligible to receive grants worth $40,000 or $80,000 to make up for lost revenue. The hospitality industry has been thrashed by the pandemic as more residents decided to stay home.

The commission also approved about $11 million to cover payroll costs for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, unemployment insurance costs for employers and medical costs for health care workers.

The commission, which includes Gov. Doug Burgum, has held more than half a dozen meetings to divvy up federal funds since Congress passed the CARES Act in March. Besides Burgum, the commission includes Secretary of State Al Jaeger and Sens. Rich Wardner and Ray Holmberg and Reps. Chet Pollert and Jeff Delzer.