National Guard helps medical facilities with COVID-19 peak

  • Published
  • By Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely,
  • National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. – As COVID-19 infections surge, more than 15,600 National Guard members are supporting state and local officials dealing with the pandemic throughout the country.

Of those responding, more than 6,000 Guard members are providing direct support to hospitals, care centers and other medical facilities.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, National Guard men and women in each of the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia have been on the front lines,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “We continue to work closely with the states to ensure our Soldiers and Airmen are meeting their needs.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, COVID hospitalizations reached a pandemic peak in early January, causing a strain on health care facilities.

Guard members are working to reduce that strain.

“We have worked tirelessly together in the states to bring a solution to fill the health care provider shortage,” said Army Maj. Gen. Jill Faris, the director of the Office of the Joint Surgeon General at the National Guard Bureau. “Partnering with our local communities to determine the best solutions to help with the increased demands is what we have been doing since the beginning of COVID.”

There are 49 states and territories that have asked the National Guard to assist with COVID response efforts.

In Ohio, roughly 2,500 Ohio National Guard members are helping out, mostly at testing sites and hospitals.

“Our primary focus is to ensure we can help these hospitals meet their capacity as they are being overrun by the perfect storm of the [COVID] variants and staffing challenges,” said Maj. Gen. John Harris, the adjutant general of Ohio.

Harris said approximately 150 of these Guard members are medical professionals who will help meet hospitals’ critical needs. The remaining Ohio Guard members will assist with patient transport, housekeeping and food services.

About 260 members of the Colorado National Guard are working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to support long-term care facilities hit by COVID-related staffing shortages.

“Our Soldiers and Airmen are working their tails off,” said Army Maj. Matthew Bickel, the senior physician assistant with the Colorado Army National Guard’s 928th Medical Company (Area Support). “This is a very dynamic mission in terms of staffing. It’s a daily shuffle to position our members in the facilities with the highest need. We are truly serving the people of Colorado and our most vulnerable citizens in a time of need.”

Colorado Guard members administer medications according to written physician orders and provide daily patient care, said Bickel.

Maryland National Guard members assist the Maryland Department of Health and other state agencies at COVID testing sites, hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities and transport patients.

“This is our third calendar year battling this virus, and we are very prepared to take on these missions,” said Army Brig. Gen. Adam Flasch, director of the Maryland National Guard’s joint staff. “Our Soldiers and Airmen will help create some additional bandwidth for the frontline medical workers, who are out there doing a tremendous job supporting Marylanders.”

The New Hampshire National Guard has 95 Airmen and Soldiers filling administrative and food service roles in 13 hospitals.

“They have really been a lifesaver,” said Connie Gregoire, part of the food and nutrition staff at Exeter Hospital in Exeter, New Hampshire. “They came in and started doing a lot of the stuff we just don’t have the time to do because of manpower.”

In Connecticut, 250 Connecticut National Guard members have been activated to assist at 24 testing sites and distribute test kits and masks at five locations. They also work at the state’s commodities warehouse in New Britain — the hub for statewide distribution of testing supplies and personal protective equipment.

“I volunteered for this mission so I could help provide access to medical services that are so critical right now,” said Pfc. Stefanie Charpentier, a combat medic assigned to the Connecticut Army National Guard’s 141st Medical Company. “The Guard is ready to help, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to support our neighbors here in Connecticut.”

Faris said she is proud of the compassion and commitment National Guard members have demonstrated throughout the pandemic.

“Wearing the uniform [as a National Guard member] signifies an obligation to support our state and nation, anywhere and anytime,” said Faris. “The National Guard will continue to support our communities in the fight against COVID wherever and whenever we’re needed.”