The Methodist Medical Center, a member hospital of Covenant Health, welcomed four doctors and four administrative staff from the Tennessee National Guard’s COVID task force on Wednesday.
The state of Tennessee offers National Guard assistance to hospitals experiencing increased overall volumes and staffing issues, largely due to the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The Methodist Medical Center called for help earlier this month, according to a press release from the hospital.
“It is our honor to welcome these members of the Tennessee National Guard,” Jeremy Biggs, president and chief executive officer of MMC said in the statement released to announce the arrival of the guard. “We are grateful and appreciate the help they will provide to our community and our team.”
After a welcome briefing and orientation, service members were deployed to day, night and weekend roles that will support patient care. This team represents members of the National Army, Air National and Tennessee State Guard.
A daily update of COVID-19 hospitalizations from the Methodist Medical Center is posted on the Covenant Health website as a dashboard and is updated on weekdays at noon. The dashboard can be accessed at https://www.covenanthealth.com/covid-19-dashboard/. The web page also includes the numbers for all other Covenant Health member hospitals.
As of Wednesday, September 29, the Oak Ridge Methodist Medical Center had 34 confirmed COVID-19 patients hospitalized, up from 41 confirmed cases on September 14. The dashboard showed that 79% of all COVID-19 patients in the hospital on Wednesday were unvaccinated, as were 90% of COVID-19 patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). Oak Ridge.
Across all Covenant Health hospitals in eastern Tennessee, 291 confirmed COVID-19 patients were hospitalized on Wednesday, 84% of them unvaccinated and 88% of those in intensive care unvaccinated. Up to 331 of hospital patients are “confirmed or suspected” to have COVID-19.
The Nashville Tennessean newspaper reported on Sept. 17 that nearly 400 National Guard members have been deployed to 31 hospitals and eight antibody infusion sites, according to National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. John Keith. Evans. A total of 86 medical facilities had asked for help since July, up from 35 during the winter wave, Evans said.
“This wave is exponentially worse,” said Evans, who is the deputy commander of clinical services for the Tennessee National Guard and helps oversee its COVID-19 response.
A record number of COVID-19 cases triggered by the delta variant, late vaccination rates and health workers leaving the field are behind the requests, Evans said. Across the south, hospitals grapple with the loss of thousands of workers as the virus emerges for the fourth time.
About 30% of those currently deployed are medical staff, while the rest are administrative staff.
Medical staff include physicians, nurses, physicians, nurse practitioners and medical assistants and can help provide direct patient care. Administrative staff help with everything from food service to transporting patients to cleaning patient rooms.
Evans, who is a trained nurse practitioner, said that since members of the National Guard are civilians, many of them with medical training are already working in hospitals or medical facilities that cannot spare them. . This limits the number of medical personnel they can deploy.
“We want to help everyone, but we can only send a limited number,” Evans said. “We are seen as short-term force multipliers. We are a temporary fix to get them over the bump.”
Evans said the number of deployments fluctuates daily as the National Guard reviews requests for support and takes into account key parameters for each installation. These metrics include things like the number of COVID-19 patients, the facility’s fill rate, the number of ICU patients, and the staff-to-patient ratio.
Medical institutions are encouraged to submit their latest data daily and can fill out a form to request National Guard support. If a facility’s request is denied, Evans said they review its data every other day and reconsider the request, if necessary. Once a request is accepted, Evans said they are working to get “boots on the ground” within 48 hours.
Deployments last 14 days and can be extended up to 28 days, Evans said. If the facility still needs help after that, the Tennessee Department of Health will step in to help with additional funding for recruiting agencies to provide more workers.
Over the past 18 months, the Tennessee National Guard’s COVID-19 response has shifted from helping manage test sites to administering vaccines to now help relieve weary medical workers. Prior to December, there was no precedent for this type of National Guard response, Evans said.
“It’s like a shell game,” he said. “You are constantly moving people around to try to do the most good for the most people.”
Rachel Wegner and Brett Kelman of Tennessean contributed to this story.