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NEWS | Nov. 4, 2021

Kentucky Guard helps hospitals stretched thin by pandemic

By Sgt. Matthew Damon, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Since Aug. 31, 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. Very quickly, they 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 afforded a much-needed break. 

For every patient, seven to eight employees are needed. The team behind the scenes includes the individual who prepares the food, the person who processes the lab work, the individual who cleans and sanitizes the room. These are the areas where Guardsmen are assisting.

“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.”

Guardsmen have also served in other areas of the hospital, including the laboratory. Guardsmen have completed the data entry for the intake of specimens, entered the orders, and ensured that suspected COVID-19 samples were processed expeditiously.

“The Guardsmen assisting the lab have been tremendous,” said Stacie Bledsoe, laboratory director for The Medical Center. 

“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 supported the hospital’s sitter team, used when a patient is identified as a fall risk or in need of additional monitoring, such as patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. These sitters provide 24/7 observation for the patients. Guardsmen have covered several rooms for six weeks, redirecting hospital staff to other critical need areas.

“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.

“To see the Soldiers come in every day 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.”

More than 300 members of the Guard will continue to serve the commonwealth at more than 20 hospitals through mid-November, as well as supporting vaccination teams and food banks during the pandemic.