LA CROSSE, Wis. — After more than three months, the mission of members of the Wisconsin National Guard to assist as nursing assistants at health facilities across the state is coming to an end.
Senior leaders from the Wisconsin National Guard and officials from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services visited several health care facilities to express their appreciation for the partnership and hospitality they extended to members of the Guard serving in these establishments.
As the state grappled with the Omicron variant COVID-19 surge in late 2021 and a shortage of healthcare personnel, bed space in healthcare facilities was at a premium.
The state has turned to the Wisconsin National Guard to help fill the void and open additional beds at key facilities. More than 160 Wisconsin National Guard Citizen-Soldiers and Citizen-Airmen have completed two-week training programs at Madison College or Bellin College in Green Bay and on-the-job training to become certified as nurses auxiliary before being assigned to health care and long-term care facilities throughout the state. More than 130 additional troops assisted at other state-run facilities.
Although these troops are mostly drawn from non-medical backgrounds, they have demonstrated adaptability and professionalism.
This mission will end over the next few days, as the need for assistance from the Guard has dissipated.
Charlene Everett, general manager of Odd Fellow Home in Green Bay, where about 10 soldiers have been helping since mid-January, praised Guard members for their service.
“It was wonderful,” she said at an April 26 recognition event at Odd Fellow Home. “They have been obedient, attentive and so kind to our residents.”
Everett said a resident who typically avoided attendance developed a fantastic relationship with one of the Guard members. Another member of the Guard used his own money to purchase items needed by a resident.
“Honestly, I don’t have anything negative to say,” Everett said. “I would do it again without hesitation. The scary part is their absence, but we knew it was coming, so we prepared for it, and I think we’re going to be good.
Everett said she hopes some of the Guard members will stay in the health care field with their new training and experience, even though no one expected National Guard members to fill that role. .
“You imagine them after a hurricane or after a flood being the first people to help, and you love them for it,” she said. “I would like the public to understand that it was just as urgent. It was dear lives they were taking care of.
SPC. James Henkel, an infantryman assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry in Fond du Lac, was recognized as Certified Nursing Assistant of the Month at Odd Fellow Home in March. He had some basic medical care experience in the past.
“I’ve worked mostly in rehab centers, so being able to see patients as they come in on day one and then work with them until they leave and have built up the strength they needed to put it back on, I think it was very rewarding,” he said.
“I think it’s amazing,” he said of the versatility and adaptability demonstrated by soldiers and airmen. “To be able to accommodate a ton of people from all walks of life, both civilian and military, with no previous experience in the medical field and to be able to come here and be successful in this field is just amazing.”
Henkel recently applied to the Wisconsin State Patrol Academy and also has EMT experience. He hopes to pursue a career in one of these fields.
Pfc. Amanda Hierstetter, a combat engineer with the 273rd Engineer Company, was assigned to the Franciscan Health Facility at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse. She arrived in January, not knowing what to expect.
Her work experience as a practical nurse has been so rewarding that she plans to pursue a career in the health field.
“I didn’t realize how much of an impact this would have on me – patient care,” she said. “Everyday, I loved getting up in the morning. It didn’t matter what time it was. Super excited to get up and work with these people every day.
Hierstetter is finishing a bachelor’s degree in management and now plans to pursue a master’s degree in health care.
Brig. Gen. Tim Covington, the Wisconsin National Guard’s assistant adjutant general for civil support, traveled to Green Bay and La Crosse to thank Soldiers and Airmen serving at Bellin Health Systems, Odd Fellow Home, La Mayo Clinic and Hillview Health Center.
Joining Covington were Dr. Jon Meiman, epidemiologist and chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and Miki Gould, the facility liaison for the Wisconsin Healthcare Capacity Task Force. and Col. Randall Myszka, the commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard Medical Detachment. , on visits.
“We can’t thank the Guard enough for the work you’ve done, your willingness to volunteer in a whole new role,” Meiman said as he visited the troops finishing their tour at Odd Fellow Home in Green. Bay. “It has helped more patients than I think we will ever experience in this state.”
Covington also expressed his gratitude to members of the National Guard. He said the mission’s success was primarily due to strong partnerships between the National Guard, the Department of Health Services and troop-supported health facilities.
“Success comes from partnerships,” Covington said. “It doesn’t come from being a 185-year-old organization. It comes from partnerships. First and foremost, our partnership is that relationship we have with the soldiers and airmen who are members of the organization who trust the leadership to find a way to make things happen. But it is then the partnership with the civil authority that actually asks for our support. In this case, the Department of Health Services in this state recognized a very significant delta and need, as COVID had embarked on a very long journey across our country and taken us on roads we had never traveled before. .
As the Wisconsin National Guard begins to transition out of its mission to support the state’s response to COVID-19, some troops plan to remain in the health care sector. Others will return to their full-time civilian careers or to their studies.
The Guard has played a major role in the state’s response to the pandemic since the declaration of a public health emergency in March 2020. Members have helped administer more than 1.2 million COVID tests and more than 230 000 vaccines. They also made more than 565,000 calls to notify residents of test results, assisted county medical examiners and staffed self-isolation facilities as part of the largest sustained nationwide mobilization in the Guard’s history. Wisconsin National.