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Military Medical Units Support Civilian Hospitals Strained By COVID-19 Surge

Image of Air Force Staff Sgt. Bradley Gorman, a medical technician assigned to a military medical team deployed to Yuma, Arizona performs a nasal swab at the Yuma Regional Medical Center’s COVID testing drive-thru in Yuma, Jan. 17, 2022. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bradley Gorman, a medical technician assigned to a military medical team deployed to Yuma, Arizona performs a nasal swab at the Yuma Regional Medical Center’s COVID testing drive-thru in Yuma, Jan. 17, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Richard Barnes)

Air Force Capt. Jenna Mason, a nurse stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, spent about five months in Minnesota supporting a hospital staff at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

When she completed her duty there recently, she said it was hard to say goodbye to the civilian hospital staff.

"It feels kind of bittersweet, you know?" Mason said shortly after her final shift in the hospital on the morning of Jan. 23.

"Just the impact we have on the patients, it's what makes being a nurse so rewarding," said Mason. "We don't just pass out [medicine] but we hold their hands and help them through it all. We're emotional support as well."

Across the country, hundreds of service members from the active and reserve components have been supporting civilian hospitals in recent weeks as the latest surge in COVID-19 infections has strained the nation's health system.

The Defense Department announced in January that an additional 1,000 active duty service members were prepared to deploy to civilian hospitals to help take pressure off medical staffs. These 1,000 personnel joined approximately 400 other military medical personnel who previously deployed to provide assistance to civilian hospitals.

The additional military medical forces have deployed to provide support in Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio. Other recent deployments included medical teams sent to Arizona, Indiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Wisconsin and one team to the Navajo Nation, according to U.S. Northern Command.

"It is a team effort — the Department of Defense is one of many federal agencies providing assistance — and I am thankful and proud of our service members' role in this endeavor," said Army Lt. Gen. John R. Evans Jr., Army North commander, in a recent report on medical support deployments.

The deployment of active duty forces followed other announcements from state governments that have activated the National Guard to support civilian hospitals.

In Arizona, a team of Air Force medics has been supporting the civilian hospital staff at Yuma Regional Medical Center. "The staff has been very welcoming and really helped us integrate into their facility," said Air Force Capt. Farran Adams, a nurse assigned to the team in Yuma.

In Maryland, as many as 1,000 National Guard members deployed to support testing facilities, hospitals and nursing families. "Personally, it feels good," said Army Sgt. Shanay Clay, who supported the mission in Maryland by delivering COVID-19 test kits and masks to health care facilities and vaccination sites.

"It feels really good to know that just this one small thing could potentially save a life."

In Vermont, state officials have also requested help from the state's guard units. Army Col. Justin Davis, director of plans and operations for the Vermont National Guard, noted how the military's role in the COVID-19 response has evolved over the past two years.

"When this first started, almost two years ago, we established an alternate healthcare facility. We augmented the Strategic National Stockpile warehouse, distributed food, conducted testing sites, and helped the state with contact tracing," Davis said.

"Then vaccines became available, and we converted our testing team to a vaccination team. We also added a team … to oversee receipt, storage, and distribution of the vaccines."

In Louisiana, the National Guard has been especially busy as the deployments to support COVID-19 efforts during the past two years often coincided with other deployments in response to several devastating hurricanes and a severe winter storm, said Army Maj. Patrick O'Brien Boling of the Louisiana National Guard.

In Oregon, state officials activated about 1,200 reservists in January, sending them out to as many as 40 hospitals that were overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients and in some cases short staffed due to employees falling ill.

You can find more reporting on how U.S. military medical teams are supporting the national COVID-19 response effort at U.S. Northern Command's news page or the Defense Department's Health Spotlight page.

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