CENTRAL VALLEY, Calif. (KSEE) – For the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Valley hospitals have faced staffing shortages but this week the state announced an early Christmas present.

The state has extended state traveling nurse and other healthcare staff contracts until the end of January and said they’d be paying for the bill.

“This is very welcome news,” said Kaweah Health Chief Executive Officer Gary Herbst. “To be able to rest our staff who have been working extra overtime and extra shifts.”

The contracts regard staff at Valley hospitals including Kaweah Health, Madera Community Hospital and Saint Agnes.

The move gives the hospitals breathing room and less overtime for staff who would have worked non-stop over the past two years.

“They have given them enough staff to add at least 20% more beds to their ICUs,” said Fresno County EMS Director Dan Lynch.

The extra state staff has been in the Valley since September but up until now, the hospitals were responsible for the bill, which Berbst said the state is now covering.

“For the first time since the pandemic,” said Herbst. “The state is actually funding the cost.”

The gesture doesn’t go unnoticed because Lynch said rates can be as high as $200 an hour.

“It is not a cheap effort that the state is funding but I think that the state is recognizing that the Valley is in a little bit of a crunch compared to the rest of the state so they have committed quite a bit of resource to our Valley,” said Lynch.