Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee announced plans on Wednesday to deploy the National Guard to a psychiatric hospital in Providence and expand emergency licensing for nursing school graduates to help relieve hospital staffing shortages throughout the state.

The 60 National Guard members to be deployed to Butler Hospital, operated by Care New England, will help increase capacity, McKee said, by allowing the private psychiatric hospital to accept patient transfers of non-critical patients from other hospitals.

The announcement comes after weeks of healthcare professionals sounding the alarm about staffing shortages at the state’s hospitals. Rhode Island hospitals reported 46.7% of its hospitals had critical staffing shortages as of Jan. 9, the third-highest in the country, according to an analysis of federal hospital data by The Public’s Radio. By next week, more than half of all hospitals in Rhode Island – 53.3% – anticipate their staffing shortages will be critical.

Rhode Island has 15 hospitals. Lifespan, the state’s largest hospital system, operates Rhode Island Hospital, in Providence, the state’s only level 1 trauma center.

When asked why National Guard troops are only being deployed to Butler Hospital rather than the more comprehensive approach seen in Massachusetts and other states, McKee said, “we are continuing the conversations about how the National Guard can play a role” in helping hospitals.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker last month deployed hundreds of National Guard troops to 55 hospitals in the Bay State. This week he said he would activate another 500 Guard members to assist hospitals.

Maj. Gen. Christopher P. Callahan, the Rhode Island National Guard’s Adjutant General, said at a briefing with McKee that “the difference between the Massachusetts approach and ours is one of getting very specific as to what the need is.” The deployment to Butler, he said, could help relieve capacity problems in other hospitals’ emergency departments by enabling Butler to accept more transfer patients who need psychiatric care.

National Guard troops also work in the state police, as sheriffs and emergency medical services, Callahan said, and the state is also trying to ensure that the deployment doesn’t pull too many of its members away from those jobs.

The purpose of the deployment at Butler is to “help relieve some of the pressure on emergency departments across the state of Rhode Island,’’ Mary Marran, Butler’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. The hospital will use the Ray Hall Conference Center as a 25-bed unit for “low-acuity” behavioral health patients, she said, so it can accommodate patients who are stuck or “boarding” in other hospitals’ emergency departments. The National Guard troops will monitor these patients to ensure their safety; they will not be required to perform clinical duties, Marran said, “so “will not add to the strain we are currently seeing on our medical workers.”

McKee said he is increasing from 180 to 200 the number of National Guard members deployed to help testing and vaccination in Central Falls and at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. He also said the state is working to enlist emergency medical technicians to work with hospitals to relieve shortages.

To address the shortage of nurses, McKee said, the state will provide emergency licenses that allow nurses to immediately enter the workforce and give them 120 days to complete the needed exams while working. McKee said that 66 nursing students at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) have already signed up to provide support to Lifespan hospitals.

The state also is working with Rhode Island College, the University of Rhode Island, New England Tech, Salve Regina University as well as CCRI, among others, to enlist recently graduated nurses. The state plans to hold two virtual job fairs for nursing graduates – one Thursday for jobs at Lifespan, another Friday for jobs at Eleanor Slater Hospital and the Veterans Home. Interested nurses can sign up for the Thursday job fair at lifespan.org and for the Friday job at backtoworkri.com.

This article has been updated.

Health reporter Lynn Arditi can be reached at larditi@thepublicsradio.org. Follow her on Twitter @LynnArditi