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167th Airmen assist in West Virginia hospitals

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Edward Michon,
  • 167th Airlift Wing, West Virginia Air National Guard

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. – For two years, the West Virginia National Guard has assisted with multiple roles and capacities in the fight against COVID-19 within the state.

In January, Gov. Jim Justice directed his Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) and his COVID-19 pandemic leadership to review and approve requests for additional staffing support throughout West Virginia hospitals.

The West Virginia National Guard answered the call to assist in staffing several hospitals in the state and committed up to 350 Airmen and Soldiers to the mission, approximately 40 of whom were 167th Airmen.

“A great deal of military members who volunteered for the mission were not medical providers and don’t have medical jobs,” said Senior Master Sgt. Rob Fluharty, a human resources adviser at the 167th Airlift Wing who is serving as the noncommissioned officer in charge at Jackson General Hospital in Ripley. “But unit members were able to adapt and overcome so that they could perform duties in support of the needs of medical patients and staff.”

Regardless of their military jobs, these service members understood the mission to support the hospitals by any means necessary.

“We came to support these hospitals in their greatest time of need,” said Fluharty. “We were able to provide the manpower needed to relieve the hospital staff of some routine duties.”

While in the hospitals, service members filled various roles, including food, linen and environmental services, materials management, patient transport and emergency department assistance.

“Within just days, hospital staff members were saying how relieved they were to have help,” said Maj. Lorie Wyatt, a 167th Medical Group Airman serving as the officer in charge at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. “It’s the behind-the-scenes work that allows a hospital to run smoothly.”

At J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, Wyatt and her team were able to help open the facility’s sterile packaging room for the first time in months and triple their output of sterile packaging to facilities in need.

Patient transport times were reduced by an average of 4 to 5 minutes just weeks after Guard members arrived.

“It’s a true testament to the effectiveness and productivity our members have to offer,” said Wyatt.

Master Sgt. Travis Sites, a 167th Medical Group Airman serving as the noncommissioned officer in charge at Boone Memorial Hospital in Boone County, also reported improvements there.

“The hospital was behind on their lab reports and we were able to get them back to real-time reporting,” said Sites. “We could see how much the staff and patients appreciated us. It really motivated us to work together to accomplish the mission and help the community.”

Elizabeth Garrasi, emergency management program director at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, said the military support was appreciated.

“They were very welcomed by our staff, our patients and our community,” said Garassi. “They had an impact almost instantaneously. Seeing the Guard there in uniform was a huge morale booster.”