TN National Guard members deployed to Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System

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MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (WATE) — Members of the Tennessee National Guard headed to a couple of hospitals in East Tennessee to help staff amid the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. Lt. Col. Justin Olander, the Joint Task Force Medical Commander, said 20 members were deployed to Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System.

“The hospitals that have us currently are in desperate need of assistance staff augmentation. And so we’re ensuring that we have, that the limited resources that we have, are allocated to the hospitals that need it most,” Olander said.

Olander’s teams were deployed to areas hit hardest by staffing shortages and rising COVID-19 cases in Tennessee. He said his crews were sent mostly to East Tennessee and West Tennessee.

“If you look at the number of cases, those are definitely higher areas of COVID-positive cases and hospitalizations,” Olander said.

His crews are at hospitals to help with two aspects of the job: administration and medical needs.

“Maneuvering patients into the positions that they need to be, also doing IVs and the total gambit of what a medic within the military has under their scope of practice,” Olander said.

Their mission is to help alleviate some of the patient flow so more patients can be seen.

“The problem’s not the number of beds. The problem is the number of staff. That’s the part that the shortfall for most of these hospitals. So in order to increase their patient capacity, by us augmenting their staff, they can see more patients,” Olander said.

Olander said another 20 members deployed to Johnson City, and two members deployed to LaFollette. For the two members in LaFollette, their goal is to help with the monoclonal treatment.

“We do IVs and assist with the monoclonal antibody infusion center,” Olander said.

The TN National Guard has to be requested to assist in hospitals. Olander says it’s something he’s never seen done in his career, although they are always ready to help in whatever capacity they’re needed in.

“Last December-January was the first time that I’m aware of in my 23 year career that we went into the hospitals to do patient care and to assist,” Olander said. Their COVID-19 efforts have also been the longest deployment most of his members, including himself, have seen.

He said out of the about 12,000 guard members in the state, and a little more than 600 of those members are helping with COVID-19 relief efforts. Olander said when cases started to rise in the summer of 2020, his members helped test civilians. Then, when the vaccines came out, they helped administer vaccines. Since December, the National Guard has administered more than 1 million vaccines to date.

Speaking of vaccinations, Olander said civilians can help the current COVID-19 situation in the state by getting vaccinated. He said in most of the hospitals they’ve been deployed to, the majority of the COVID-19 patients were not vaccinated. He said people don’t realize the strain they put on the whole healthcare system by not getting vaccinated.

“There are surgeries and things that people need and care that they need that’s not getting done because our hospitals get overwhelmed,” Olander said.

Olander said this recent contract of deployment is for two weeks, but he believes with the current surge, they might be offering assistance in hospitals for at least six weeks.

According to Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System leaders, the state of Tennessee reached out to MHHS, offering assistance for hospitals experiencing increases in overall volumes and staffing challenges, due in large part to the number of COVID patients being hospitalized.

Leaders said COVID-19 cases have continued to rise in the Morristown area and on Sunday, the 10 medics and 10 administrative staff from the Tennessee National Guard COVID Task Force arrived to help with the influx.

“We are extremely grateful for this additional support from our Tennessee National Guard,” said Gordon Lintz, Chief Administrative Officer for the hospital. “This is a critical time for hospitals all across our state and country, and we are imploring citizens who have not yet had the COVID vaccine to please get one as soon as possible.”

Olander said his members would stay as long as they were needed.

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