1,250 more Ohio National Guard members to aid hospitals amid staff shortages

Another 1,250 Ohio National Guard members will be mobilized to help with coronavirus-related hospital staffing shortages in the state.

“This is not something that we do lightly,” Gov. Mike DeWine said. “These are our fellow citizens. We are asking them by mobilizing them to leave their families. We’re asking them to leave their jobs, we’re asking them to leave their homes. It’s a huge sacrifice, and we’re grateful for their willingness throughout this pandemic to do that.”

DeWine announced on Dec. 17 that 1,050 Ohio National Guard members were activated to help with COVID-related staffing shortages in hospitals. About 150 members were trained medical personnel and EMTS, and the remaining 900 members would serve in nonmedical capacities.

The decision to activate more guard members came following a call with the state’s hospitals Wednesday morning, DeWine said.

Of those being deployed in the second wave, Ohio National Guard Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr. said he doesn’t expect to see many health care providers.

“We’ve been very deliberate that we don’t cannibalize the capacity that already exists in the hospitals,” he said. “If we mobilized a medical professional, they may be a person who’s being pulled from a different department that’s not critical to the ICUs or emergency department.”

Guard members are being deployed to hospitals with the greatest need. The guard will support larger hospitals, which will help alleviate pressure on smaller hospitals, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said last week.

During the initial deployment, guard members were sent to seven hospitals in Mahoning, Trumbull, Summit, Stark and Lucas counties. About 460 Ohio National Guard members were deployed to Cleveland, 160 to Toledo and 100 to Columbus, said Harris. In the next few days about 40 guard members will respond to Dayton.

“The goal here is to expand the hospital’s capacity because most of the hospitals tell us their challenge is not shortage of beds, but shortage of staffing to staff those beds,” Harris said.

While some guard members will help with clinical work, nonmedical members will help transporting patients, environmental and food services and other administrative tasks.

It is not clear how long the deployment will last.

“No one wants to see this as a permanent situation,” DeWine said. “We are in a surge. We have to deal with a surge now. We do not expect this surge to last forever.”

Harris reminded Ohioans that guard members responding hospitals are being pulled from other jobs.

“Our intent is to disengage from the hospitals as soon as the department of health and the Ohio Hospital Association tells us it’s OK to disengage from the hospitals so we can get our members back to their families and back to their places in the workforce where they’re so important to our economy in Ohio,” he said.

In addition to the National Guard members, Ohio is working with a health care staffing agency to get workers from out of state and is in contact with the federal government about receiving additional help.

Dr. Richard Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health, attributed the staffing shortage to mainly burnout and people leaving the field. Prior to the pandemic, the Cincinnati area was already experiencing a nursing shortage, which COVID exacerbated. Lofgren said vaccine mandates haven’t led to a significant staffing decrease at UC Health.

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