MADISON, Wis. – Approximately 70 Wisconsin National Guard members completed a two-week certified nursing assistant (CNA) training course at Madison College and were assigned to health care facilities across Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers announced.
The effort is part of a collaboration among the Evers administration, the Wisconsin National Guard, and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to support hospitals and nursing homes.
“The Wisconsin National Guard has been an invaluable part of our efforts throughout the pandemic, and this mission is no different,” Evers said. “Members of the Guard are volunteering to step up so we can welcome more CNAs into our nursing homes across the state and expand capacity at our hospitals during this critical time. We are incredibly grateful for their dedication and sacrifice in service to their communities and our entire state.”
The troops are helping the state increase capacity and bed space as both the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and staffing shortages at health care facilities plague the state. The Guard members join approximately 50 other troops assigned to long-term care facilities across Wisconsin earlier this year.
Guard troops are assisting as CNAs at facilities in Mineral Point, Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse, New London, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Cornell, Woodville, Sturgeon Bay, Suring, Antigo, Weyauwega, Kaukauna, Kenosha, Waunakee, Glendale and Racine.
Sgt. Andrew Moen, normally a heavy equipment transport operator as a Soldier and plumber as a civilian, completed the 75-hour training course at Madison College and is working at a health care facility in Racine.
“It was a good opportunity to go out and help and support the state and our people,” he said.
Some of the troops who completed the CNA qualification either had some training in the field or were planning to go into the field, but many, like Moen, volunteered out of a sense of duty.
“I knew nothing about the health care industry,” he said. “I learned a lot about the vocabulary and the terms they used, how to speak to patients, be respectful, learning the daily ins and outs of what nurses have to do, and it’s a lot.”
Madison College expects to begin training another wave of Wisconsin National Guard troops as certified nursing assistants in the coming weeks. These troops will support hospitals and nursing homes.
“We are honored to partner with the Department of Health Services and the National Guard to meet the acute need for nursing assistants across the state of Wisconsin,” said Dr. Lisa Greenwood, Madison College’s associate dean of nursing. “We look forward to welcoming the second wave of National Guard member students to Madison College for emergency nurse aide training. It is a great pleasure to work with the National Guard member students, who are eager to learn, dedicated to their mission, and striving to provide high-quality care in their future nurse aide roles.”
Healthcare systems have been grateful for the help.
“Having the National Guard members working with us has made a huge difference,” said Renee Groth, MSN, RN, nurse manager at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse. “With their help, we’ve been able to maintain bed capacity for patients while also giving our nursing staff respite from some of the tasks they were doing in addition to their regular nursing care.”
Approximately 600 Wisconsin National Guard troops continue to assist the state in various capacities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many remain engaged with community COVID-19 testing, where they helped the state administer more than 1.2 million tests. In December, approximately 65 other troops began temporary nursing assistant roles at four mental health facilities, while another group assists at vaccine stockpile management sites. Many of the troops who recently began CNA duties transitioned from these other roles, but about 100 additional troops reported for duty in January specifically for the CNA mission.
Their duties vary depending on where they are assigned, but they trained how to provide activities of daily living like personal hygiene, hair care, oral care, skin care, bathing, helping with the restroom, and repositioning individuals who may be largely immobile, according to Capt. Jacob Howey, the officer in charge of the group of troops that recently completed training.
“Overall, the Wisconsin National Guard showed that we’re pretty much a Swiss Army knife when it comes to whatever or whenever the governor needs something,” said Sgt. 1st Class Brody Lavene. “We’ll work to figure it out.”