EL CENTRO, Calif. – A California Air National Guard medical team is helping provide care at Pioneer Memorial Hospital, which has had a surge of COVID-19 patients.
The Guard members, who had conducted COVID-19 testing in nearby Indio, answered the call from Imperial County. The Cal Guard’s aid allowed for increased bed capacity and patient care at the hospital in Brawley.
“Back on May 20, we were requested to come down here and provide support at the request of the Imperial County health operations area coordinator for the COVID-19 efforts,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jordan Darnauer, 144th Medical Detachment commander.
Chris Herring, the county’s emergency medical services manager, fielded the request for medical personnel support through the state and received 19 Airmen from the California Air National Guard’s 144th Medical Detachment, 146th Medical Group and 163d Medical Group, consisting of five registered nurses and 14 medics.
“It’s awesome to see. It plays into the fact that no matter what wing you’re from in California, when it comes to medical, everyone’s professionalism, leadership and talent is showcased here. I’m seeing it every day. They take absolute pride in helping the citizens in their time of need,” said Darnauer.
Treatment of COVID-19 patients requires intense care. Often, the patients have concurrent medical issues. This care requires more time, which in turn requires more medical professionals.
“We always throw out the National Guard name and say, ‘We’re going to call the National Guard,’ but it’s very comforting that when you do, they show up and they show up with very specialized staff who can get the job done,” said Herring.
The main purpose of the personnel is to augment and fill any role the hospital might need. Senior Airman Tamara Frankie, from the 163d Medical Group, is a military-trained emergency medical technician who is assigned to the medical-surgical floor at Pioneer Memorial Hospital, helping the nursing staff treat patients with the coronavirus.
“The doctors and nurses are working nonstop and extremely hard. We are there to support the staff in any capacity, whether it is something as simple as taking vital signs, assisting to move the patient or helping the patient ambulate. Whatever the nurses need,” said Frankie.
Medical staff are often the only source of in-person comfort for patients with the virus. Due to the infectious nature of COVID-19, family visitation is limited.
“We offer support that the patients need. They just don’t have the support of their family there. We get phone calls from the family members and we try to relay as much information back and forth as we can. There’s a lot of fear on the patients’ side that they don’t have a loved one there to offer that support, so we’re filling in that role, too,” said Frankie.
Frankie has adapted to comfort patients while still providing the medical treatments they need.
“Sometimes, there’s a lot of trepidation on their part when they see a nurse walking into a room and all they can see is their eyes. We’re under layers and layers of protective gear. So, when we enter the room, we need to be cognizant that this is a person, and they have a lot of medical needs that need to be addressed. They can also have a lot of fear. We need to help set aside their fears so we can help them,” said Frankie.
The new COVID-19 mission in Imperial County has tested the versatility and training of members of Cal Guard’s medical personnel.
“This is why people join the National Guard. We train every [drill] weekend for this reason in hopes that one day if the need arises, we can rise to that need and provide for what the operation dictates of us,” Darnauer said. “In this case, it’s providing medical care. What I’ve heard from all the nurses and medics here is this is what they have trained for.”