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Army National Guard Begins Work At Western Kentucky Hospitals

Liam Niemeyer
Eric Abbott with the Army National Guard at Baptist Health Paducah.

Dozens of Kentucky Army National Guard members are beginning their work helping overburdened healthcare staff at western Kentucky hospitals strained by the latest surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

About 15 guard members started aiding hospital staff Wednesday at Baptist Health Paducah, helping clean floors, check people into the hospital and distribute syringes and other medical supplies throughout the facility.

Kentucky Army National Guard Non-Commissioned Officer Eric Abbott — a Hickman County native — said receiving the assignment to help the hospital was a surprise. He said national guard missions in the past traditionally include disaster relief in Kentucky and other states. But he said the assignment also showed the severity of the pandemic right now.

“I feel like it's really ever evolving. So, we need to try to be prepared for everything. And that's kind of why we [are] here,” Abbott said. “We are trained to do different jobs, and to help when we're called upon to do whatever they need us to do.”

Abbott said the length of members’ stay is still to be determined, depending on the hospital’s evolving needs.

Baptist Health Paducah President Chris Roty said it takes manpower and funding to operate COVID-19 testing, vaccine clinics and monoclonal antibody treatment, alongside tending to those who are hospitalized. He said having guard members aid with non-clinical duties at the hospital relieves some of the current staffing pressure.

“It's a blessing, we're glad to see them. Wonderful people, wonderful attitudes, and we're glad to have them here,” Roty said.

Liam Niemeyer
A guard member helping distribute supplies at Baptist Health Paducah.

Baptist Health Paducah is one of 21 hospitals in Kentucky receiving some of about 300 guard members to help healthcare workers swamped with COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital in Paducah has also received between 20 to 30 guard members Wednesday, primarily helping with non-clinical duties. Hospital spokesperson Nanette Bentley said having guard members cleaning and housekeeping in non-COVID sections of the hospital is a “huge benefit” for infection control.

“We are very grateful for their assistance, which will help us keep our own resources focused on caring for COVID patients,” Bentley said in a statement.

Kentucky health officials reported 5,398 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 49 new deaths due to the virus. 2,493 people were hospitalized in Kentucky.

Ohio County Healthcare
Army National Guard members at Ohio County Healthcare.

Ohio County Hospital has hosted about 10 guard members since Tuesday, with soldiers taking on various duties throughout the hospital: fielding phone calls from patient rooms and loved ones concerned about patients, renovating rooms in unused parts of the hospital to expand patient capacity, moving supplies throughout the facility, and running lab results for healthcare staff.

“It's one less thing the nurses and the other workers should have to worry about, so they can focus on giving the patients care that they need,” said 2nd Lt. Matthew Chinn.

Chinn said he’s originally from Cadiz, with other guard members he’s serving with at the hospital from Hopkinsville, Fulton, Murray and Paducah.

Hospital Community Relations Director CeCelia Robinson said the support from guard members helps in freeing up hospital staff to focus on their duties in treating patients, instead of their efforts being diverted elsewhere.

Robinson also urged her community to see this moment as an opportunity to reconsider receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, given that guard members are trying to aid healthcare workers with the strain hospitals are facing. State data shows only about 38% of Ohio County residents are vaccinated.

“If you chose in the past, to make the choice not to be vaccinated, it's okay to reconsider your thoughts. It's okay to reconsider your stance,” Robinson said. “What a better way to honor your guardsmen. These ten soldiers have left their civilian jobs, left their families and come here to help us care for patients.”

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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