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OHSU turns again to National Guard to get through staffing shortages

FEMA has funded a Guard deployment of about a hundred members to help with non-medical hospital jobs until April 1, depending on how the omicron surge plays out.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Members of the U.S. Army National Guard are again on the campus of Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) to help navigate ongoing staffing shortages.

"This experience has been great," said Guard specialist Trevor Hoffmann.

Hoffman has been with the Guard for seven years, and this is his second time being deployed to help OHSU. Guard members also helped OHSU in August and September during the delta coronavirus surge.

Hoffman said he was happy to "help out my hometown and just be able to give that relief that's needed for the hospitals." 

"They're working with a skeleton crew," he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funded the latest Guard deployment of about a hundred members to help with non-medical hospital jobs until April 1, depending on how the omicron surge plays out.

This time around, Hoffmann is assisting kitchen staff.

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"They're exhausted, and you can see it," he told KGW. "You could just see the relief in their faces when they saw us here."

"We can't say enough how grateful OHSU is," said Banning Hendricks, OHSU director of patient experience. 

Hendricks said Guard members have freed up some OHSU staff who have been working extra hours to bridge labor gaps.

"Allows them to go home and spend time with their family and take care of themselves," he explained. "Having the National Guard come in is such a boost in morale."

The deployment comes as Oregon hospitals care for 1,138 COVID patients, according to Oregon Health Authority data released Tuesday. The delta peak in September was more than 1,200 hospitalized COVID patients.

In the meantime, understaffing across the entire health care system has a resulted in a big challenge for hospitals.

As of Tuesday, more than 600 patients were waiting to be discharged from the hospital to lower levels of care, but couldn't be released due to staffing shortages in other facilities.

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More than 200 people were waiting to get into the hospital, and many hospitals face a backlog of non-COVID patients who have had to put off other treatments and surgeries during the pandemic.

Every bit of help to upkeep other hospital services goes a long way, and Guard members like Trevor Hoffmann are thankful to give back.

"All the 'thank you's I was getting up and down the hall...that's humbling," Hoffmann said. "I would do it a third or fourth time if it has to be."