Answering Every Call

Soldiers and Airmen in the Massachusetts National Guard are regularly activated to provide support for events like the Boston Marathon, the 4th of July and natural disasters.

Now, members of the Massachusetts National Guard are in hospitals to address non-clinical support needs in over 60 acute-care hospitals and 13 ambulance service providers across all five of the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Regions across Massachusetts. Two separate activations of up to 500 Guard members each, Dec. 20 and Jan. 11, have these members of the community supporting the Department of Public Health and Massachusetts Medical Centers to relieve stress due to unprecedented hospitalization rates and significant health care workforce shortages.

“To support hospitals that are experiencing staffing shortages, the governor is activating up to 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to ensure sufficient non-medical personnel are available to deliver support to patients,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “This will allow hospitals to free up clinical staff to provide higher levels of care to those who need it.”

This mission has highlighted what the National Guard can provide to states they support, in non-traditional military assignments. These new roles showcase how adaptable the Soldiers and Airmen in the guard are to any task they are given.

Taskforce Powderhorn Commander Lt. Col. Patrick Donnelly said that different tasks Soldiers and Airmen completed, such as patient transport, patient observation, food delivery and facility security, showed how capable, compassionate and willing they were to take on the tasks that were asked from them.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, these same men and women have supported the Commonwealth in a variety of different ways, from PPE delivery, assisting with COVID screenings, processing unemployment pay for the state, protecting the city of Boston and the District of Columbia during civil disturbances and even supporting local communities through driving children to school during a bus driver shortage.

“The Massachusetts National Guard is also due a tremendous thank you,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “From getting kids to school, to protecting small businesses, to now helping health care providers, these citizens soldiers answer every call.”

Even though the Soldiers and Airmen were tasked with non-clinical support roles, there was a circumstance where a Soldier performed CPR to help resuscitate a patient.

“I think the real eye opener was early in the mission when a Soldier observed an unresponsive patient who was not breathing and had no pulse, and sprang into action performing CPR, resuscitating the patient, allowing the medical staff time to get appropriate help and equipment in place,” said Donnelly. “Word spreads very quickly among health facilities, and more and more locations asked for help, showing confidence in our force.”

Not long after this instance, National Guard support was even more sought after at medical facilities.

The Massachusetts National Guard led the way in this unique health care support mission, with other states following suit. National Guards from 49 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been activated to assist health care needs in 2022, after a variety of missions were tasked in 2021.

“More than 15,200 Guard members from 49 states and territories are contributing to the governor’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 virus,” said Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “In 2021, we witnessed our Soldiers and Airmen get over 10.2 million days responding to COVID-19, civil disturbances, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires, as well as all of our overseas deployments.”

UMass Memorial Hospital is one of the acute-care hospitals experiencing staffing shortages and an increase in hospitalizations in Massachusetts.

“Right now, I believe their orders are set for 90 days,” said Kerry Clark, senior director for EMS and emergency preparedness at UMass Memorial Hospital Health Care.

There are some service members who have supported multiple missions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff Sgt. Julius Annon, an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, previously administered Covid tests at schools in Gardner, Mass., and supported law enforcement during the civil disturbance in the District of Columbia. He is currently working in the emergency department triage at UMass Memorial Medical Center, assisting with directing patients and visitors around the hospital.

“It means a lot to me especially as a health care worker,” said Annan. “I see a lot of things that go on, so being able to help out in the National Guard in any way, helping the Commonwealth and the general public out, is always the goal.”

Newer service members are being immersed into what the National Guard provides during state-side activations helping their community.

“This is my first activation, and it’s a really good learning experience seeing what the guard actually does in state,” said Spc. Juan Duran, a heavy equipment operator with the 181st Engineer Battalion. “I had an idea, but the interactions with the doctors and medical workers I see every day really means the most. It’s like the uniform isn’t there, and it’s just people interacting with people.”

The members of the Massachusetts National Guard are committed to supporting the different roles they are assigned to at the various EMS Regions throughout Massachusetts. Their work has earned the Soldiers and Airmen thanks from the supervisors at their duty locations.

“I could not be prouder of the work our Soldiers and Airmen are doing on their assigned mission in hospitals, nursing homes, ambulance services and dialysis centers,” said Donnelly. “We have put Soldiers and Airmen into unfamiliar situations, and they have responded with enthusiasm, compassion, courage and action. They have excelled in all assigned duties and have been met from their supervisors at numerous mission locations with nothing but surprise, admiration and appreciation.”

Story by Sgt. Cody Kilduff, Task Force Powderhorn Public Affairs

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