LOS ANGELES – Airmen with the 146th Airlift Wing helped set up medical equipment and hospital beds for a federal medical station at the Los Angeles Convention Center to aid in COVID-19 response March 29.
“This is a huge part of why I joined. I’ve been on deployments, but this is the first time I’ve been called up to emergency state active duty to help my community,” said Tech. Sgt. Becky Jensen, a section leader with the wing’s 146th Civil Engineer Squadron, and a Long Beach native.
The 30 Airmen, based out of Port Hueneme, set up 250 temporary hospital beds and medical equipment, including wheelchairs, privacy screens, and other needed medical paraphernalia under the guidance of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the City of Los Angeles.
“We are all working together to ensure that everything is set up properly, safely, and that each facility’s individual needs are met,” said Jensen.
Since their call to emergency state active duty last week, the Guard Airmen have been busy setting up similar federal medical stations in the cities of Santa Clara and Indio to help aid hospital overflow due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“This is our third city in six days, our morale is high, and while there’s always a risk, it’s definitely worth it,” said Senior Airman Eric Gutierrez, an air transportation specialist with the wing’s 146th Logistics Readiness Squadron.
While there is always a risk for California Guard members when called to state active duty during emergencies, Jensen said the ability to bring her knowledge as a chemical engineer in the civilian world to the mission has helped mitigate that risk.
“We’re doing the best we can. We are military first responders, but being a chemical engineer, I looked into the chemical background and molecular structure of this disease and how it’s spread,” Jensen said. “We’re making sure to practice good hygiene, constantly washing our hands and our uniforms as often as possible.”
Federal medical stations, established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are meant to provide a quick response to emergencies such as pandemic outbreaks like COVID-19, where hospitals may overflow and run short on available beds. During such emergencies, when every second counts, the Airmen of the 146th are capable of unloading and setting up these sites within seven hours.
“I don’t think they understand the difference they’re making here, to them it’s just unpacking boxes,” said Robin Bishop, a planning section chief with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “This could make a difference between someone’s life and death.”