Oregon Guard winds down hospital support mission

  • Published
  • By Sgt. 1st Class Amy Elker,
  • Oregon Military Department Joint Forces Headquarters

ACROSS OREGON – With declining infection rates from the COVID-19 omicron variant and the indoor mask mandate ending, Soldiers and Airmen from the Oregon National Guard wrapped up their mobilization to assist hospitals throughout the state.

In January, approximately 1,200 Guard members deployed to aid understaffed and overworked hospital employees during the omicron surge. They performed non-clinical support roles in more than 40 hospitals. Guard members worked in janitorial and food services, logistics and supply, transportation, COVID-19 screening and testing, information technology and lab support — even sitting with patients.

Anna Hayter, human resources director, Wallowa Memorial Hospital in Enterprise, said she was very impressed by the members of the ORNG and their readiness to jump in and assist.

“I think the quality of character we saw in the Guard members that were deployed at our hospital was just phenomenal,” she said. “They displayed such a willingness to help. They were very professional, very respectful, very kind, and willing to do whatever we asked of them. They all had wonderful attitudes throughout the time they were here. It’s very nice to know those types of people are in our National Guard.”

Hayter said the roles the ORNG performed at the hospital were critical. Due to the hospital’s rural location in a town of 2,400 people, she said they have been short-handed for as long as she could recall, and the pandemic only served to magnify that.

“A lot of our people — the ones who are still here — are tired,” she said. “It was just a really welcome relief at a moment when we really needed it, and even though they couldn’t help with patient care, it was great to have them fill in in certain areas to give someone a break or allow us to reallocate one of our full-time employees to a department that was in need.”

Staff Sgt. Denny Cline, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Division, served as the noncommissioned officer in charge at Wallowa. Cline helped sort laundry, allowing the only hospital staff worker there to take some breaks and make it home to her family on time, rather than working overtime. He said it was a rewarding, eye-opening experience.

“I think we all joined with the mentality that we wanted to give back to our country,” Cline said. “But we forget that our No. 1 goal as the National Guard is to give back to our community and show them we are there for them.”

Sgt. Isaac Waggoner, Bravo Company, 741st Brigade Engineer Battalion, 41st Brigade Combat Team, worked a swing shift in the emergency room at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria. Waggoner cleaned rooms, ran labs, moved patients and helped with anything nurses and doctors needed.

“Having the opportunity to help others who may or may not have been able to help themselves, or just having a helping hand in the folks’ jobs that keep others healthy and safe is a big deal,” Waggoner said.

He said he made the biggest difference when he assisted the nurses with a patient whose heart had failed. Waggoner and two nurses took turns giving chest compressions until the patient was revived and flown to another hospital, where he underwent surgery and is alive due to their efforts.

“Our missions come in different shapes and sizes,” Waggoner said. “No matter how big or small they are, it’s our job to answer the call and respond by giving ourselves to the communities we live in and make a positive impact.”

Julie Hale, director of support services, Asante Rouge Regional Medical Center in Medford, said the ORNG’s services positively impacted the hospital and the community. Hospital patients and other citizens baked bread and cookies and delivered them to the medical center to thank the Guard.

“They’ve had such a great positive attitude being here,” Hale said, “even though I know they have been away from their home and their families.”

Maj. John Cascamo, 173rd Fighter Wing, was the officer in charge of ORNG members at Asante. He said he was delighted to serve at the same medical center that helped his family 12 years ago when his pregnant wife developed swine flu and gave birth to their son prematurely.

“It felt like a completed circle,” Cascamo said, “to give back to the hospital that literally saved my wife’s life and my son’s life.”