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Ohio Guard team provides lifeline for assisted living facility overwhelmed by COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Amber Mullen
  • 178th Wing

Two months after the novel coronavirus began spreading throughout Ohio, a team of 20 Airmen and Soldiers were activated for two weeks to help care for residents at an assisted living facility that was being overwhelmed by the virus.

After having residents and staff experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, Carlin House Assisted Living directors Mindy and Chad Bailey decided to advocate for facility-wide testing. The testing revealed that nearly 65% of the residents and 37% of the staff members had contracted COVID-19.

As fears began to rise, many of the staff members chose to self-quarantine. With only six nursing staff members remaining on the team, the facility began to have a resident and staffing crisis.

Rather than displacing residents to alternate facilities, the Baileys chose to shelter in place and reach out to the Ohio National Guard through the Ohio Emergency Management Agency for additional support and resources. Within six hours of receiving the call, the Ohio National Guard dispatched a 20-person team of Airmen and Soldiers with medical and ancillary staff capabilities.

The ONG medical staff consisted of medics and nurses who were responsible for tasks such as administering medications, assessing conditions, taking vital signs and transferring residents throughout the facility. The ancillary staff provided support through tasks such as cleaning, laundry services, delivering meals and assisting trained medical personnel with resident care needs.

Once they arrived on scene, the Ohio National Guard members were oriented to the facility, situation and the residents. The members worked to cordon off wings of the facility based on which residents tested positive for COVID-19, and then created internal protocol to include personal protective equipment (PPE) for each section. The PPE protocol was instrumental in promoting safety and decreasing cross-contamination between individuals who had tested positive for COVID-19 and those who had not.

The ONG team valued interacting with and learning from their civilian counterparts about the facility and residents. The assisted living facility staff provided the team with valuable input on their operations and residents’ care needs. These needs varied greatly among the facility’s residents.

“They’ve helped me by serving my meals, with personal care, and just being there for me,” said resident Kathy Russell. “They’ve been very good to us. They stepped in and stepped up greatly to be here and to take care of us. They’ve done a great job and I am thankful for them.”

While the work environment was unique to the Soldiers and Airmen, who typically train to operate in a tactical and combat medicine environment, many of the Guard members were able to draw from their military and civilian experiences to provide professional care for the residents.

Maj. Richard Binks, with the Ohio Army National Guard Medical Detachment and a registered nurse, was no stranger to working with patients who had contracted COVID-19. Binks had worked with COVID-19 patients in his civilian job as an intensive care unit nurse and for his previous mission assignment during the current pandemic, where he cared for inmates for about 20 days in April at the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, Ohio.

“I think (my experience there) prepared me for this because I have a better understanding of the proper PPE to use, what precautions and prevention methods to take, the overall understanding of how COVID-19 can present, knowledge of the interventions being done for patients with COVID-19, and knowledge of the treatment plans for COVID-19 positive individuals,” Binks said.

All members of the team also played an instrumental role in providing the residents with companionship and assessing their mental and emotional well-being during the quarantine. This mental and emotional well-being during a crisis is parallel in importance to their physical well-being. Simply keeping the residents in good spirits is what the Ohio National Guard members aimed to do.

“I’ve seen their demeanor and I’ve heard the compassion in their voices as they speak to and take care of our residents,” said Chad Bailey. “There’s not enough words to express our gratefulness that they are taking care of our residents how we would, and how they deserve to be taken care of.”

During their time at the assisted living facility, the Airmen and Soldiers also experienced the unfortunate reality of how the virus can be fatal. Through this experience, a services Airman, who was part of the ancillary staff, was able to take the lead in providing mortuary affairs services for the residents who had passed.

“When a resident passes, I treat them as if they were my family members,” said Airman First Class Chelsea Winteringham, a services Airman with the 179th Airlift Wing. “It's tough at first, but then you realize you’re doing it to respect the deceased and their family members.”

Although their time together was short, the death of a resident can take a toll on the Airmen and Soldiers who performed the mission. The Guard members formed personal connections with the residents and got to know them on an individual level. During a daily meeting, members had the opportunity to talk about how they were feeling with the group and were able to look to one another for support.

Members of the Ohio National Guard value serving their communities in times of need, no matter how unique the situation may be. Being able to be adaptive, to build relationships and to simply be compassionate neighbors is what led to the joint success of the assisted facility staff and ONG team in serving the residents.

“(The Ohio National Guard members were all) very caring and receptive to understanding how the residents are feeling, how the families are feeling, and how we as staff members are feeling,” said Mindy Bailey. “They are more than just responding to a crisis. They (were) completely engaged in the entire body, mind and soul of the entire mission.”