Oregon National Guard Soldiers and Airmen help avert hospital overflow crisis

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • Oregon National Guard

Oregon National Guardsmen are traveling to more than 40 hospitals across the state to assist with heavy patient loads and short staffing threatening future patient care, Feb. 4, 2022.

Although the Guardsmen cannot assist with medical practice they are lending a hand in critical, non-direct patient care roles including material handling, equipment sterilization, COVID testing support, and laundry and custodial services.

Staff Sgt. Nathan Browning, a 173rd Fighter Wing Airman, said he’s helping sterilize rooms in the emergency department after patients leave to make them ready for the next patient, a critical process ensuring pathogens aren’t passed from patient to patient.

“I like it; I did E.R. admissions over in Idaho for five or six years so this is my old stomping grounds,” he said.

The Commander of the Oregon Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. Donna Prigmore, paid him and others a visit to explain the necessity of their activation, as well as to say “thank you.”

“Think about filling a glass of water—you reach a point where it starts overflowing and you can’t put any more into it,” she said describing how hospitals are finding themselves at capacity and being pushed beyond. “We’ve come close two times now in terms of that being the case for accessibility to hospitals and a lot of people have no idea how close to dire it has become.”

With the looming specter of hospitals having to turn patients away, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked the National Guard to lend assistance to help cope with the rising tide of COVID until it receded to the point where hospitals could cope on their own.

Nearly 1,200 Guardsmen answered that call helping out in their local hospitals and traveling across the state as well.

173rd FW Vice-Commander Col. Micah Lambert says it’s an integral part of serving in the National Guard, “Always ready… Always there; that is the National Guard motto and it is being clearly demonstrated throughout Oregon this year.”

From Portland to Ashland to Enterprise and every place in between these servicemembers are helping hospitals navigate a public health crisis without having to turn sick people away.

“Everyone is tired; it’s kind of like ground hog’s day, we just need a little relief to get ahead,” said Jackie DeSilva, the trauma program manager for Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, the largest hospital in the region.

“We all have servant’s hearts,” answered Prigmore gesturing to the uniformed servicemembers working in the hospital, “just like all of you do.”

Master Sgt. Timothy Lombardi, the team first sergeant at Asante Rouge Regional Medical Center sites Airman 1st Class Kylee Gonzales of the 173rd Maintenance Group as one example of that service when she racked up 42,000 steps walking the hospital hallways during the course of her shift, a total distance of 17.96 miles in a single day.

Another Airman, Tech. Sgt. Tyler Dunn, of the 173rd Fighter Wing, spends many days at the hospital moving patients in wheelchairs—pushing them as far as five miles in a shift. The nursing staff said, “he’s a keeper,” and joked that they’d like to hire him permanently.

Army Staff Sgt. Manikanta Johnson, who is assigned to Oregon Training Command, and a civilian firefighter and emergency medical technician when not wearing the uniform, volunteered for the duty in the emergency room. Doctors and nurses say his skills are valuable to them as they work to treat critical injuries and provide life-saving care at Providence Medford Medical Center.

Providence Hospital Director of General Service Karen Bartalini took the opportunity to thank the Oregon Guardsmen for the extra help saying, “I just want to take a moment to say ‘thank you’ for this help,” emotion creeping into her voice and eyes growing misty.