Oregon National Guard Leadership Visits Troops Deployed At Oregon Hospitals

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ONTARIO — Oregon National Guard leadership, including Col. Michael Burghardt, visited troops assigned to help at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario this past week. Burghardt, who is the task force reassurance commander, was on a tour throughout the state last week of medical facilities where troops are deployed to provide relief during the COVID-19 surge.

Among his stops was the Ontario hospital, where three Guardsmen have been deployed to work on a number of tasks. All three citizen-soldiers are Ontario-area residents. This includes an assortment of tasks, such as work on ventilators, help in the lab, helping out environmental services, screening patients and monitoring patients to free up a nurse, CNA, or other health-care provider so they can focus on patient care.

Local citizen soldiers at the hospital include Specialist Brian Nickerson, Sgt. Bailey Frash and Spec. David Rangel.

Unless deployed for another task, as was done with a fourth soldier who was initially at the hospital for a brief period before that happened, the troops are expected to stay at Saint Alphonsus through early November.

When Gov. Kate Brown activated the Oregon National Guard, health-care facilities who needed the extra help applied.

As far as the COVID-19 landscape at the Ontario hospital goes, Mark Snider, spokesman for Saint Alphonsus Health Systems said in a phone interview this morning that while he didn’t have today’s numbers, overall “it’s leveling out.”

“Ontario is holding steady,” he said. “There are COVID patients there.”

However, he said health-care workers at the medical facility aren’t “in a panic,” though noted that the case numbers per 100,000 for Malhuer County are still concerning.

On Oct. 11, COVID case numbers per 100,000 people in Malheur County had dropped to 641, down from 916 on Sept. 21.

While it’s still hard to quantify, Snider said he believes things have started to stabilize.

They’re holding firm, the thing that’s concerning is when you look at how case county in

Relief for health-care workers has come in multiple forms, including help from the Guardsmen and case numbers lowering.

As far as whether there is a shortage of workers since the Oct. 17 deadline to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or have an exemption for not doing so per Gov. Kate Brown’s mandate, Snider said it will take a few days to assess. However, he noted that he believes “we had very good compliance” overall.

While Saint Alphonsus can share resources, such as hospital beds, across its health system, sharing licensed health-care workers is not as simple, due to differences in licensing rules in each state. While some have dual licenses, not all do.

It would be easier to share licensed workers between Ontario and Baker City, if needed, however, Baker City may be “in the same boat,” Snider stated.

He also noted he did not have numbers available on how many exemptions were applied for.

According to information from the Malheur County Health Department, there have been 10 “COVID-19 related deaths” in the county since the second week of August, with the most recent death, a woman in her 70s who died in the hospital, reported Oct. 14.

Drive-up testing clinics and vaccination events continue through the end of the month every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Malheur County fairgrounds, 795 N.W. Ninth St., Ontario.

Citizens, even those who are vaccinated, are urged to continue taking precautions against spreading the virus, including wearing a mask indoors or outdoors if unable to stay 6 feet away from other people.

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