National Guard Steps Up in Nursing Assistant Roles Amid Healthcare Shortages

by Courtney Blackann
(Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

National Guard soldiers are stepping up and alleviating some major stress. In Madison, Wisconsin, dozens of National Guard members are taking a specialized course in nurses assistant training. Though they may not have seen themselves in that role, the pandemic-caused staffing shortages called for their help.

According to Reuters, Joenes Gellada is one of these soldiers who never saw himself filling in as a nurse’s assistant. But he trained at the Madison Area Technical College when the medical staff called upon him.

“Never in my wildest dreams,” he said.

Over the past two years, entire staffs of healthcare workers have suffered due to the ongoing pandemic. Throughout the country, nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers have exhausted themselves dealing with the crisis.

And as the COVID-19 cases continue to worsen, healthcare workers couldn’t get any relief. There were many who quit – not being able to handle the stress any longer.

So when the Wisconsin National Guard offered their services, nurses everywhere in the state were all too grateful.

Healthcare Workers Grateful for National Guard Presence

“Our healthcare workers are in desperate need of our help. They’re beyond exhausted,” said Dr. Lisa Marie Greenwood, the associate dean of nursing at Madison College.

State officials asked the National Guard for assistance amid the struggle and decline in workers. The shortages have completely exacerbated hospitals and assisted living facilities.

In February, 70 National Guard soldiers got certified to be nursing assistants. Ten of those arrived at the  Wisconsin Dells Health Services. This care facility specializes in long-term care for patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. And for Heather Steubinger, the help came just in time.

“I absolutely love my job – never, ever could’ve imagined doing anything different with my life – until the pandemic hit,” she said. “I questioned so many times, like, ‘can I do this? Do I want to do this?'”

Further, the National Guard trained another 80 soldiers to assist in other facilities. But this is only temporary, officials reported. The contract with the National Guard is only good until mid-March. However, the nurses in each facility are hoping their contract gets approved for an extension.

“I feel like we’re all able to breathe a little bit better,” Steubinger said. “It’s been a blessing.”

Texas National Guardsmen Unionize

While Wisconsin National Guard soldiers are lending their efforts to health care workers, Texas National Guardsmen were busy unionizing following a harrowing report by the Army Times. The men and women that organized are a part of the U.S.-Mexico border mission called Operation Lone Star.

The mission was created by Governor Greg Abbott in March 2021 to assist with border patrol missions and combat illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border.

Instead of temporary orders, these soldiers are deployed to the border for a year – or more. They often leave their civilian jobs with little notice, despite family hardships or educational pursuits.

The Times report also found that morale in the mission was incredibly low – with many struggling daily with their mental health. In some cases, these National Guard soldiers died by suicide.

Further, the conditions at the border were not up to standards, the report found. There was a lack of cold-weather uniforms, medical supplies or portable toilets. Living conditions were also confined and cramped with soldiers living in converted RVs or semi-truck trailers.

The action to unionize sets a new precedent for National Guardsmen in a move that’s never been done. Their hope is that they receive clarity and transparency from Texas Guard leaders.