BOWLING GREEN, Ky. –
Since August 31, 2021, Kentucky National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have augmented hospital staff across the Commonwealth performing non-clinical tasks during a COVID-19 pandemic surge. Soldiers arrived at The Medical Center at Bowling Green not knowing what tasks they might be asked to complete, and within a few short days, began functioning as though they were seasoned employees of the hospital.
“In food services, the Soldiers and staff seemed like they have worked together for years,” said Joseph Knight, food services manager at The Medical Center. “The teamwork between them has been incredible to watch. In just a short amount of time, the Guardsmen requested more tasking to do on their own.”
This allowed hospital employees to be reallocated or be afforded a much needed break. Per hospital staff, for every patient, a team of seven to eight employees is needed in order to provide proper care. This is not just the individual providing the hands-on care to the patient; this is the team behind the scenes. The individual that prepares the food; the individual that processes the lab work; the individual that cleans and sanitizes the room, so the next patient can be cared for. These are the areas that Guardsmen have been called in to assist.
“Right now, my teams are understaffed approximately 800 man hours for current staffing needs,” said Fred Genter, vice president of supply chain for The Medical Center. “Would we have gotten all the work done? At some point we would have hoped. Would patients have been in less than ideal circumstances in the interim? 100%. The Guard has had a direct impact on the treatment of patients.”
Genter continued to say that departments are wondering when the Guard is leaving in order to properly recognize the Soldiers and their support, referring to the comradery that has been built in such a short amount of time.
Guardsmen have been able to serve in other areas of the hospitals as well, including the hospital’s laboratory. Guardsmen have completed the data entry for the intake of specimens, entering the orders, and ensuring that suspected COVID-19 samples were expeditiously processed, particularly during the surge testing.
“The Guardsmen assisting the lab have been tremendous,” said Stacie Bledsoe, laboratory director for The Medical Center. “We have been fortunate to have members of the Guardsmen Alex, Susannah and Lorenzo. With them receiving and scanning the samples in, we have been able to process the samples in a timely manner.”
Guardsmen have been relied on to learn and perform numerous unfamiliar tasks. These tasks have come quickly and have changed just as quickly. The Guardsmen have been unfazed and focused on their tasks at hand. From the moment the Guard arrived at The Medical Center, they have been integrated into members of the care team.
“It is refreshing to see how professional, courteous and willing the Soldiers are,” said Dennis Chaney, vice president of ancillary services at The Medical Center. “I am very impressed with their maturity and willingness to work. There is this willingness to come in here and just help.”
The Guardsmen have also provided support with the hospital’s sitter support team. The sitter support team is used when a patient is identified as a fall risk, or may just require additional monitoring, to include patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. These sitters provide 24/7 observation for the patients, and Guardsmen have covered several rooms for the past six weeks, redirecting hospital staff to other critical need areas.
“Several members of the National Guard have been faithful to this part of the caretaking model,” said Chaney. “This is a huge part of reducing patient falls and addressing patient safety. This particular area may not be very engaging, but it is a necessary part of the care team. From the first morning that the team met, the expectations were put forth and the Soldiers were just willing to do whatever needed to be done.”
Genter continued to reiterate the sitter’s role as part of the care team.
“There is no amount of training that can prepare you to be a sitter,” said Genter. “It is one of the more difficult jobs for the Guardsmen. You’re spending 12 hours a day, in a room with someone in pain. It takes a special effort for the folks that were assigned to this duty.”
The Guard has answered the call no matter what the task was.
“To see the Soldiers come in everyday ready to work and at a moment’s notice, ask them to do something else,” said Bledsoe. “Then redirect to do that, redirect again for something different. Just seeing that flexibility and the attitude that they can accomplish anything, is refreshing.”
For the Soldiers here, this is not the first time that they have been in an unfamiliar team environment. From the first moment that the Soldier steps off the bus at the reception station at basic combat training, the team system, or battle buddy system, is instilled. This team effort being committed to something larger than one’s self is shown every day at the hospital.
“I’ve told my family and I’ve told my friends that this hospital system is a commitment to serve, and the Guardsmen fit right in with that,” said Chaney. “We could not have gotten through this without the Guard, bottom line.”
As of November 4, 2021, Guardsmen will continue to serve the Commonwealth on the COVID-19 mission through mid-November. There are currently more than 300 Soldiers and Airmen with the Kentucky National Guard providing support to more than 20 hospitals, as well as supporting vaccination teams and food banks in the Commonwealth.