Hundreds of National Guard personnel will be on hand to help hospitals across the state deal with the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, as the Omicron variant pushes infections in Massachusetts to new highs.
Governor Charlie Baker announced last week that he was activating up to 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to address the non-clinical support needs of hospitals. The deployments were scheduled to begin on Monday.
The Guard members will be assisting at 55 hospitals and 12 ambulance providers in Massachusetts, according to the Baker administration.
Close to 500 Guard personnel were activated as of Monday, and “the number will vary a bit each day depending on schedules and need,” Massachusetts National Guard officials said in a statement.
State public health officials said Guard members will be deployed to provide security, delivery of patient meals, and non-emergency transportation services (such as transferring patients between two healthcare facilities, or bringing a discharged patient from a hospital to a nursing home).
They will also be available to transport patients via wheelchair or stretcher from their room to receive tests such as X-rays or CT scans, and they may also serve as patient observers, watching patients who are at risk for harming themselves, officials said.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital is one of the dozens across the state that will be receiving support from the Massachusetts National Guard. Mark J. Murphy, a spokesman for Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said 11 National Guard members are currently in training to perform certain tasks at the hospital.
“They will initially contribute with patient observation in the Emergency Department, patient transportation, and meal delivery,” said Murphy.
Six members of the Massachusetts National Guard were sent to Tufts Medical Center Monday to help with patient transport and crowd managment.
“They are in training right now,” said Drew Smith, a spokesman for Tufts Medical Center. “Four of them will assist our Emergency Department with patient transport and staff support. Two others will assist Public Safety with COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinic lines and crowd management control. They will also help with general visitor management.”
Smith said the coronavirus pandemic, now entering its third year, has worn on the health care community and the help from the National Guard is both appreciated and needed.
“If no one is available to transport a patient, a nurse has to do it and the nurse loses valuable clinical time with patients,” said Smith. “The Emergency Department is also seeing increased numbers of patients who need behavioral health support as they wait for care. Assistance in observing and supporting these patients is very helpful.”
UMass Memorial Health will be receiving 18 National Guard members to assist at the system’s five hospitals.
“They will be doing patient transport, working in the testing tents and screening visitors,” said Debora Spano, a spokeswoman for UMass Memorial Health.
Seven National Guard members will be set to Boston Medical Center to serve as “sitters” to patients in the Emergency Department.
“The members of the Guard will provide a valuable service keeping patients safe, while freeing up hospital staff to perform their clinical roles at a time of unprecedented demand in our region’s health care system,” Boston Medical Center officials said in a statement. “Boston Medical Center appreciates the assistance of the National Guard at our hospital and others across our state.”
In addition to the National Guard activation, the state Department of Public Health had also announced that starting Monday hospitals are being directed to postpone or cancel all nonessential elective procedures in order to maintain inpatient capacity.