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National Guard an eerie sight at Ohio State hospital

This photo provided by a hospital staff member shows Ohio National Guard members standing watch outside the hospital rooms of prison inmates that are being treated for coronavirus at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. (The Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

Inside Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, there’s a corridor where members of the National Guard line the hallways.

They stand watch over the dozens of prison inmates infected with the coronavirus who are being treated there.

Some nurses inside the hospital said that while the guardsmen are polite and professional, their presence — coupled with the number of inmates — is causing them to feel unsafe and impact their mental health.

“There are a large number of guards in the hall and nurses really respect the job they have to do and appreciate their protection,” said Rick Lucas, head of the Ohio State University Nurses Organization. “But it is causing a lot of stress and it’s a legitimate issue nurses have to deal with in doing their jobs.”

Earlier this week, the union representing nurses at the hospital filed a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging nurses were not being properly protected and not given proper protection to care for infected patients.

The complaint said 85 nurses had been infected with coronavirus while on the job and many more were forced to quarantine after being exposed.

The complaint noted that nurses caring for inmates in Doan Hall were forced to bring in their own protection equipment because the hospital is not providing supplies.

Ohio State officials said they have not received a copy of the union’s complaint.

Dr. Andrew Thomas, chief clinical officer at the hospital, said the university has been following federal guidelines in protecting staff and will continue to monitor the need for protective equipment.

“Nothing means more to us than the health and safety of our colleagues, our patients and their families,” he said in an email to The Dispatch.

Michael Rider, a corrections officer who worked at the hospital, told The Dispatch this week that the lack of protective equipment for prison staff is making officers and inmates afraid for their safety.

“It is just utter chaos,” he said.

The National Guard was called in to help monitor prisoners because there have been nearly 2,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Marion and Pickaway state correctional institutions alone.

And 419 correctional officers have tested positive for the virus.

Inside the hospital, the guardsmen stand watch through a window in the door. They enter the inmate’s room when the nurse enters, said JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Corrections.

The guards are not armed.

Lucas said protocols at the prisons also require two guards per inmate when they are brought to the hospital.

Smith said the guards are not allowed to discuss the health of the inmate or health plans with nurses.

The guards wear masks at all times.


© 2020 The Columbus Dispatch