PORTLAND, Oregon — It's been a month since Oregon Gov. Kate Brown mobilized 1500 Oregon National Guard Members to hospitals around the state as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise in the state in August to the highest levels since throughout the pandemic.
At first it seemed the need was greatest at hospitals in Southern and Central Oregon, but Portland-area hospitals were also understaffed and overloaded.
Right now, 500 soldiers and airmen are currently working in metro area hospitals, supporting staff by doing health checks at the front door, operating information desks, transporting patients, stocking medical supplies and more.
Sgt. Jayson Hester is one of 148 guard members helping ease the load at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. He is working at an information desk, helping patients in the doctor's wing.
“Sometimes it's busy, sometimes it's slow; people come up and ask ‘where's my doctor's office?’” said Sgt. Hester. "I tell them what floor, what room it is and help them out. Sometimes I have to wheel people up to their appointments."
Thursday was the soldier’s third day at St. Vincent and he's already feeling good about it.
“This deployment is really unique because I'm actually working with the public. It's pretty fulfilling, I enjoy doing it. It's helping out the community,” he said.
In 19 years in the Oregon National Guard, Hester has served after Hurricane Katrina and been deployed to Afghanistan. He's been on the front lines fighting Oregon wildfires. Most recently, he just got back from a deployment in Kosovo.
He said this deployment is different.
“One-on-one with patients, you get a lot of 'thank you for being here,' a lot of questions of 'why are you here' so we explain to them why we're here is to help out the hospital staff that is really short staffed," said Hester. "They just really appreciate that, like 'thank you so much thank you for your service.'"
These are trying times. The pandemic has come in waves. This last one seemed to hit harder than expected with the last several months marking all-time records for hospitalization and cases in Oregon. Sgt. Hester shared a message to other Oregonians about the pandemic.
“Let's hang in there, we're all in this together. Let's hang in and get through it. It's just another one of those things— everybody pitches in and helps everybody out. It's a lot easier that way.”
Hester’s civilian job is working in the shipping department at Columbia Sportswear. He said his employer has always been good about his deployments. So, he will serve at St. Vincent Medical Center as long as he is needed. He said one good thing about this tour of duty, he's able to go home every night to his family in St. Helens.