For U.S. Hospitals Facing Staff Shortages, the National Guard Is Stepping Up to Help Out

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Currents News Staff

There is no shortage of patients at U-Mass Memorial Medical Center: the shortage is of hospital staff. Dr. Eric Dickson says 500 people are out with COVID – mostly medical staff who’ve been exposed.

“It’s just the perfect storm for a nightmare here in the emergency department,” said President and CEO of UMass Memorial Medical Health, Dr. Eric.

The Massachusetts National Guard is helping to fill the gaps. Staff Sergeant Julius Annan has been with the Guard for nine years. He was deployed to Egypt in 2017 and has worked across the state and country.

This is one more mission to help.

“We’re able to feel that these guys are working very hard and that our presence here is helping them just even mentally-wise,” said Staff Sgt. Julius.

The Guard members took an oath to defend the country against all enemies – even if they never quite expected this.

“We have soldiers and airmen that may be computer programmers, that may be school teachers, they may be working in the community, business people, whatever that is, and they’re filling very different roles this time,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Connelly. “Roles as drivers or transport people within the hospital – food service, security, and patient observance.”

National Guard Medical Teams are now deployed in 10 states helping in hospitals and medical facilities. Some 13,000 Guard members have helped across the country with vaccine sites and more, according to Major General Jill Faris.

“We’ve done just about anything affiliated and associated with COVID support,” said Maj. Gen. Jill, Director of the Office of National Guard Joint Surgeon General. “We’ve seen it happen in all of our states and territories.”

The main hospital in central Massachusetts is already over capacity – 115 percent full. The numbers are only expected to rise in the coming weeks. Patients fill the hallways. Open rooms are a precious commodity. The main COVID testing site in downtown Worcester has been packed. On Tuesday, the positivity rate at the site was 40 percent which is what the hospital said was more than double what it was a year ago.

Every new patient, COVID or not, is a strain on an already strained system.

The hospital says nearly 70 percent of the COVID patients are unvaccinated. Military discipline helps in a crowded hospital and so did military training for Specialist Stephen Prochniak, who saw a patient who wasn’t breathing on the floor.

“After standing back for about a minute or so,” said Specialist Stephen, “one of the doctors said, ‘Do you know CPR?’ And I said, ‘yes I do.’ So he said, ‘Great, glove up, get in there.’” 

The patient was resuscitated and Specialist Stephen went back to work, cleaning rooms and transporting patients. It’s a mission the Guard is ready, even if it’s not a mission they ever imagined.