ELKTON, Ohio – From blizzards to hurricanes, from East Coast to West Coast and anything in between, members of the National Guard answer the call each time our nation is in need.
Today, as COVID-19 continues to grip America, more than 46,600 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are deployed to every state, three U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, supporting their communities — caring for citizens in need, and helping to slow the spread of this deadly virus.
In Ohio, more than 700 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen have stepped up to the front lines of this fight to protect Ohioans by providing unique skill sets, specialized military training and knowledge to the communities hit hardest by COVID-19.
The Ohio National Guard has provided teams of Soldiers and Airmen to feed Ohioans at food banks, collect and distribute critical personal protective equipment and analyze the threat and spread of the virus. Guard members are also assessing facilities for potential use as alternate medical sites and supporting prisons, helping wherever needed.
At the request of Gov. Mike DeWine, beginning April 6, more than 40 Ohio National Guard medical professionals spent 20 days supporting the Federal Correctional Institution Elkton, in Columbiana County, with medical services and equipment. The Guard responded rapidly, filling critical staffing gaps until additional federal resources could arrive.
Lt. Col. Kyle Erford, a nurse assigned to the 180th Fighter Wing’s Medical Group and COVID-19 incident commander at a local hospital, knew it wasn’t a question of if Ohio National Guard medical technicians would be activated, but when.
“I had discussed the possibility of being activated with my family,” Erford said. “I received a call just before 9 a.m., and three hours later, I reported for duty, ready to support Operation Steady Resolve.”
FCI Elkton, which was operating with half the required medical staff before the National Guard arrived, was one of Ohio’s first correctional institutions to feel the harsh impact caused by the spread of the coronavirus. The Ohio Guard’s medical support team provided patient triage and care to reduce the number of inmates transferred to hospitals and mitigate the spread.
“We were there to help reduce the spread by testing and isolating patients as necessary,” said Maj. Cameron Evans, clinical standards officer for the Ohio National Guard. “We helped to alleviate stress on the facility staff and the local hospitals and provided a bridge to additional intermediate care right inside of the facility.”
The diverse skill set of the team expanded and enhanced medical care within the facility. The team brought in physicians, physician assistants, nurses, medics and supply support members, each with unique roles.
Supply support team members were dedicated to the safety of the physicians and nurses by ensuring personal protective equipment was readily available and that each suit and mask fit before each shift, to prevent infection of the highly contagious virus.
The nursing staff cared for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. Physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners evaluated the health of patients, developed treatment plans and ordered tests before patients were cleared to reintegrate back into the population.
“The National Guard is uniquely qualified for medical care in a variety of settings,” Erford said. “We train for both war and peacetime missions, and while providing care in an environment like this isn’t something we traditionally prepare for, our skills and knowledge are relevant to this setting. I had previous civilian experience working as a nurse for the Lima Correctional Institution, and that experience also prepared me for this mission.”
Maj. Natalie Diltz, a physician assistant assigned to the 178th Wing and an emergency medicine physician assistant at a local hospital, knew the team’s medical knowledge and experience would help.
“Our involvement was critical to help plateau the transmission of COVID-19 throughout the facility,” Diltz said. “But, we were also able to aid in decreasing the number of inmate admissions at surrounding hospitals by providing in-house patient care.”
“Our Soldiers and Airmen worked alongside our civilian counterparts to mitigate the spread of this disease,” said Col. James Parry, deputy state surgeon for the Ohio Air National Guard. “We brought with us the capacity and the medical expertise to assist with daily virus screening, testing and in-house treatment.”
Throughout the mission, the Ohio National Guard medical team provided 24-hour support, spending more than 4,000 staff-hours assisting the prison medical staff. The medical team released its final patient April 24.
While the mission at Elkton is over, fellow Ohio National Guard members continue to help prison systems across the state. Soldiers and Airmen are assisting with medical and operational support at Pickaway Correctional Institution in Orient, Marion Correctional Institution in Marion and the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.
“From the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Ohio, we’ve known our support could be requested for a variety of unique missions,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio adjutant general. “Our medical team provided excellent care for the inmates at the federal correctional institution in Columbiana County. I can’t say enough about our Guard members’ professionalism during this mission.”