BURLINGTON, Vt. – Twenty-nine members of the National Guard served on a task force with the Emergency Department (ED) at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Members of the Vermont National Guard spent several weeks in late March working in an altered ED layout as the State of Vermont activated the National Guard to support a unified response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within 72 hours, the task force, composed of C Company (Medical), 186th Brigade Support Battalion, and support personnel from across the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Vermont National Guard, set up a treatment area to help the ED in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 patients.
“It was really amazing to see it all come together, especially considering that we had half the task force not C-MED organic, so it’s folks we’ve never seen before and never worked with before,” said U.S. Army Maj. Joseph Phelan, Charlie Company commander. “They’re from the CAV (Cavalry), from the BEB (Brigade Engineer Battalion), for them to jump right in, they did a phenomenal job.”
The Burlington hospital’s emergency entrance was transformed with temporary traffic cone patterns and three large Army tents. All the staff wore face masks, suits and gloves. Patients would drive up and talk with a triage nurse and provider to determine treatment.
Some patients were treated right in their vehicle – bandages were applied for smaller cuts or scrapes – while others moved into the ED or to the treatment tent for care. C Med Soldiers helped treat more than 140 patients.
Treatment teams included three medics and a provider, with an equivalent team on standby. Other personnel assisted with drive-through triage services and checking in patients and transporting them in the hospital.
One to three medics eventually rotated through the emergency department, providing patient care while shadowing nurses and providers.
“It was a great opportunity to grow in their skills as a medic, to be able to do rotations in the ER, and learn from providers and nurses there and give care to patients and just be able to use their skills in a setting other than training,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andralee Strassner, a combat medic with Charlie Med.
Many Guard members traveled from out of state to support the mission, including Strassner from New Hampshire, and members from New Jersey and New York. Several were out of work in their civilian positions.
“I work in health care myself, but not in a hospital setting considered essential,” Strassner said. “Being able to come somewhere where I am considered essential and being able to make a difference in a community that I know they really appreciated the help that we were able to provide for them and take a little stress off of their ER staff, it just means a lot to be able to do that.”
Of the 29 Soldiers, 24 volunteered to remain on after ED surge operations, anticipating new missions to support the state.
Phelan called the mission an “amazing opportunity to work side-by-side with our civilian partners" to help them fill gaps or needs.
“We were treating and serving our neighbors ... Vermonters – they did it, they lowered the curve and should be proud of that.”