As the omicron wave continues, more military personnel are being deployed to civilian hospitals
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The Pentagon has deployed about a thousand active duty service members to civilian hospitals around the country to help with the latest COVID surge reporter, Lucy cop of the American home front project visited a Yuma Arizona hospital where active duty air force troops are working
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Since the beginning of the year. Captain fair Adams and 14 other military personnel have called Yuma Arizona, their home away from home.
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We didn't know each other when we first showed up, but we've got to know each other and you become family really quick.
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Adams, a clinical nurse is part of a team of 15 who arrived in the small desert town from Eggland air force base in Florida. They got here just 40 hours after they were tasked with an unusual deployment for active duty military troops, a COVID relief mission. Since then, they've been working side by side with the hospital staff
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From decir. Have you given room decir
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Tech Sergeant Franklin Cordone was also called for the mission. I
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Think we had a few days turn around, uh, to get our stuff ready. Like any other deployment comes down from the, the chain my boss gets told by his boss and so on, and then eventually gets to us
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While cordon and Adams didn't expect their next deployments to send them to the American Southwest. They both said the opportunity to serve is why they signed up. And this mission isn't a far stretch from how they spend their days on base.
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Interestingly enough, for me specifically, I, I work in a, a ward as well, taking care of COVID patients and myself and captain Adams with us. Uh, we, we work in the same section at work inland and we take care of the same type of patients, honestly. So it's not too different for us. Honestly,
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Nearly 600 active duty military personnel have deployed a hospitals across the country since August back in October, Deb, AERs the chief nursing officer at Yuma regional medical center predicted a winter surge and began applying for federal aid.
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The community has such a high percentage of positive COVID right now we know within seven to 10 days of that high number, we, we get admissions
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To apply. Aiders had to prove that the medical center had exhausted all other efforts like using travel agency, nurses, delaying elective surgeries, and maxing out the number of patients she could transfer to other hospitals.
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So all I've done really when I do it is I follow the process that we have to follow. You have to go through your local health department, which goes through your state department and basically tell the need in our story.
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Part of Yuma's unique story AER says is its geographic location and huge influx of seasonal visitors.
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What we have is the winter visitors, visitors who come from Canada or the Northern part of the United States, because it's nice and warm here. We have the migrants. Now this last time coming up across the border, there was a lot of overwhelming migrants coming across the border. We are quite across from California. So as California clamped down on what people can do, they came over to Arizona.
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Not only is the hospital seeing more COVID patients, but it's also had a lot of employees call in sick. Aider says it's not unusual to have 90 hospital staff out on a single day. That's creating a huge strain on nurses. Jessica Munez has been a relief nurse in UMAS COVID unit since the start of the pandemic,
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As with nursing, you know, we do get, you know, burnt out and we feel that, you know, it's COVID is trying, it's very, it's a different beast on their own.
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So she was happy to hear that military personnel were being flown in to help her team,
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You know, and we just tell 'em what we need done. And so it's good relief that we're feeling from that. Um, from the military support,
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It says she applied for an extension for federal aid and got it. So for Adams and Cordone Yuma will be home away from home for a bit longer. I'm Lucy cop in Yuma, Arizona.
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This story was produced by the American home front project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.
As hospitals struggle to stay afloat during a third wave of COVID-19 cases, they are finding relief from active military troops who have deployed to some of the neediest medical facilities across the country.
In January, President Biden announced that a thousand military medical personnel would be deployed across the country in phases. The Pentagon said in late January that it was sending medical teams to several cities where civilian medical centers are strained by a rise in COVID-19 cases, including Minneapolis, Cleveland, and Lewiston, Maine. Troops also are working in six Michigan hospitals.
Those latest deployments are in addition to several that were already underway before Biden's order. Throughout the winter, deployments brought about 400 medical military personnel to hospitals in Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Arizona, and other states.
One of those hospitals is the Yuma Regional Medical Center in the southwest corner of Arizona. As the hospital experienced winter surges of COVID-19 cases, Chief of Nursing Deb Aders decided to apply for military aid.
“You have to go through your local health department, which goes through your state department, and basically tell the need in our story,” says Aders, who applied for the aid in October.
Part of Yuma’s unique story is its geographic location and influx of seasonal visitors. She said many vacationers come from Canada in search of sun, while others come from California for recreation because Arizona's COVID restrictions are less strict. In addition, the Yuma area has a large migrant community working on farms.
Coupled with the highly contagious Omicron variant, Aders says the community transmission rate is so high that it’s not unusual to have ninety hospital staff members out sick on any given day. That is creating a huge strain on nurses.
"COVID is trying. It’s a beast of its own,” said nurse Jessica Muniz, who has been working in the COVID unit since the beginning of the pandemic. "We do get burnt out, and we feel that."
On December 29, a team of 15 military personnel from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida arrived in Yuma to assist the hospital staff. Tech Sergeant Franklin Cordon is part of the team who, within 48 hours of being tasked for the mission, were on a plane to Yuma.
"I think we had a few days turnaround to get our stuff ready," Cordon said.
While Cordon didn't expect his next deployment to send him to the American Southwest, he said the mission isn’t a far stretch from how he spends his days at the base hospital in Florida.
“I work in a ward as well taking care of COVID patients," he said. "So it's not too different for us, honestly."
Since arriving at the hospital, the military team has been working side-by-side with hospital staff to help alleviate some of the stress brought on by the surge of patients.
"We just tell them what we need done," Muniz said. "So it’s good relief that we’re feeling from the military support.”
Aders, the chief of nursing, said the troops were initially scheduled to remain in Yuma for about a month. But the hospital received an extension from the federal government. Those requests go through the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Department of Health and Human Services, which work with the Department of Defense to provide service members.
The extension means the Air Force personnel will remain in place into February. Aders anticipates that her hospital hasn’t seen the worst of the Omicron surge.
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this web and audio story mischaracterized the application process for federal aid related to COVID-19 relief. States submit aid applications through a lead federal agency, such as FEMA or the Department of Health and Human Services. Those agencies may turn to the Department of Defense for support. The story has been updated.
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