Operators in the Hoosier State are the latest to bring in the National Guard to take additional pressure off staff members trying to contend with COVID-19 challenges. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) announced the move last week in an effort to help exhausted staff.

“The pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. But it’s taken a real toll on the residents and staff, and both of their families,” Holcomb said during a press conference. 

Multiple states, including Minnesota, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Texas and Nevada, have previously called in the National Guard to help nursing homes respond to the pandemic. They have taken varied approaches to utilizing their respective Guard personnel.

The Indiana program will start Saturday and would involve members of the National Guard being stationed at long-term care facilities to help screen employees, perform data entry, assist with testing and infection control protocols and perform other tasks, according to Holcomb.

He added that the National Guard will initially be deployed to facilities that have at least one case of COVID-19 and will later expand to cover all facilities in the state.  

“The bottom line is to provide some relief for the staff members and the residents, slow the spread among them, and educate and improve all of those known-to-be-working infection control measures,” Holcomb said. 

Providers are still awaiting additional details, such as how long National Guard members will stay in facilities, whether they’ll wear civilian clothes or fatigues and whether they’ll take direction from providers, explained Eric Essley, president and CEO of LeadingAge Indiana. 

“We would expect that the state will be picking up the tab for this deployment, would hope that their role will be purely to assist each facility doing the enumerated functions addressed in the above bullet, and take direction from those in charge at each provider community,” Essley told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Friday. 

He added that the move by the state doesn’t relate to any “actions or inactions within the provider’s facilities. 

“Our providers know what to do, have been doing an exceptional job for months now, and do not feel the need to turn over operations to an outside entity,” Essley noted. 

“That said, we are extremely grateful for the general assistance and the additional hands that will take some of the administrative burdens off staff so that those caregivers can get back to caring for residents,” he said.

‘Only positive stories’

Patti Cullen, president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, explained that the National Guard was used in several capacities during case spikes in facilities in her state this summer. 

“Their primary function was to assist in serial testing at our locations when we were conducting point prevalence testing of all residents and staff and it worked out amazingly well. At the height of their capacity, the National Guard teams initially did all of the testing for the first round, then trained our staff to do the tests themselves the second time and finally observed our staff doing the tests in round three,” Cullen told McKnight’s

“As the number of teams decreased, their role in testing was converted to coming in and training the staff to do the testing on a one-time basis. We also used National Guard members on an emergency basis as ‘back up’ staff when facilities were in an outbreak mode and staffing levels were critical,” she added. 

Cullen said the association’s providers “had only positive stories to share about their experiences with the National Guard, especially after we requested that they commute to the facilities in non-official vehicles.” Initially, some of the guard members showed up in official tanks and vehicles, which upset some of the residents, Cullen explained. 

“We are very appreciative of the support offered to facilities by the National Guard, and would recommend it as a resource for other states,” she added.