Eighteen New York National Guard medics and medical technicians on duty at a Syracuse area nursing home are opening up more care slots in the region’s medical system, according to Dr. Kimberly Townsend, the president and chief executive officer of Loretto Health and Rehabilitation.
Townsend said that the Soldiers and Airmen on duty at Loretto Health and Rehabilitation had enabled her to open 20 additional beds and accept ten to 12 other admissions at the facility.
“Over the last week, we’ve been successful in increasing our admissions which is helping the long-term benefits of our health system in this region,” she said.
“We’re very excited and very honored to have the National Guard troops here helping us,” Townsend said. “We’re just so grateful for their support because it’s helping us keep our regional health care system up and running.”
The Guard Soldiers and Airmen working at Loretto are among 120 troops deployed to 13 long-term care facilities across the state by New York Governor Kathy Hochul at the beginning of December.
The goal, the governor explained at the time, was to relieve staffing shortages in nursing facilities so that patients in hospitals could move into those facilities and, in turn, free up hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.
The New York National Guard identified 120 Army Guard medics and Air Guard medical technicians not already working in a medical field in civilian life and mobilized them to fill those holes in the nursing home staff.
“Over the last month or so, our health care in the region has really backed up,” Townsend explained. The state offered National Guard troops to help fill staffing shortages, and Townsend agreed. Loretto offers comprehensive eldercare for more than 10,000 clients in central New York, specializing in sub-acute services, short-term rehab, and long-term care.
New York Army National Guard Pvt. Nastasia Morgan, a medic in the 107th Military Police Company, said she thought she would be doing medical-related tasks. Instead, she and the others are performing duties similar to a certified nurse assistant or CNA. They tend to residents’ personal needs, assisting in bathing, at mealtimes, and other ways.
“The National Guard troops are serving as CNA’s up on our floors and delivering care to our residents,” Townsend said. “It could be anything from helping them get up in the morning, get dressed and ready for their day.”
“All of the things that you would do for your loved one in your home,” Townsend said. “That’s what they’re doing for our residents here.”
The Soldiers and Airmen arrived at Loretto in the first week of December. They got two days of training and then they went to work. “At the end of the day, this is why we joined the Guard, so we can help out and support our community in a time like this when they need the help,” Morgan said.
“I know that our senior population is the most vulnerable,” Morgan said. “As a medic, you always want to help and do what’s right.” Not everything the Guard Soldiers and Airmen do for the residents is focused on care issues all the time, Morgan said. Sitting and taking is important too, she added.
“We sit with them and chat with them,” Morgan said. “Just to make them feel some semblance of normalcy.”
This is the latest in unusual missions the New York National Guard has conducted since the first 200 Soldiers and Airmen went on duty in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020.
Since then, over 6,500 personnel have been part of the mission at one point or another. Performing a wide range of tasks, including support to call centers, drive-thru testing sites, food distribution, establishing alternate care facilities, assembling COVID test kits, administering vaccination sites, and warehousing medical supplies or assisting medical examiners.
This latest mission has troops now deployed to sites in Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, Buffalo, Utica, Plattsburgh, Uniondale, Liberty, Vestal, Olean, Lyons and Goshen.
“What I’m hearing is that they are extremely polite, very diligent, and eager to deliver a great service,” Townsend said. “These are people who are dedicating their lives to the mission of caring for others. They’ve been doing that here for us, and it’s just really been such an honor and privilege to have them.”