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N.J. National Guard again is deployed into a COVID battlefield, helping out in long-term care facilities

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Melissa A. Seel, an aerospace medical technician with the 177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard, checks a homeless veteran’s blood pressure during Stand Down 2017 at the All Wars Memorial Building in Atlantic City, N.J., May 17, 2017. (New Jersey National Guard photo by Mark C. Olsen/Released)

The New Jersey National Guard is being sent into some of the state’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to help respond to a soaring number of COVID-19 outbreaks amidst growing staffing shortages.

“Time and time again, the New Jersey National Guard has stepped up to the plate throughout this pandemic,” said Gov. Phil Murphy, who announced the deployment on Thursday. He said the move will send members of the Guard to facilities experiencing staffing problems, protecting the health and safety of long-term-care residents “while the omicron variant surges throughout the nation.”

Approximately 150 soldiers and airmen will be involved in the deployment, beginning on Monday, Jan. 10, at more than a dozen long-term care facilities around the state.

Officials said the Guard members will help in a variety of tasks, including assisting residents in dressing and daily hygiene, feeding, testing and screening of staff, residents and visitors, and administrative support.

On Monday, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli at the governor’s weekly briefing said that hospitals and long-term care facilities throughout the state were experiencing large staff shortages due to COVID, sparked by the extremely contagious omicron variant that has caused a dramatic spike in the number of cases being reported.

“As a result, the department and the state Office of Emergency Management are working with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) on requests for federal strike teams to support hospitals and with the New Jersey National Guard for strike teams for our long-term care facilities,” she said. “We are getting many inquiries also about setting up field medical stations as we did in April of 2020.”

It is not the first time the guard has been enlisted to help out nursing homes. The National Guard was deployed early in the pandemic into the state-operated veterans homes, which were devastated by the virus and saw some of the highest death tolls in the country.

In May 2020, New Jersey also sent 120 National Guard soldiers to other long-term care facilities to help back up beleaguered staffs, a move that some criticized as being too late after other states had take similar actions weeks earlier. Then, as in the latest deployment, the soldiers were not medical professionals, but were sent to support the facilities in non-clinical roles.

Staffing shortages, always an issue in many nursing homes, became a major problem then because so many employees became infected with COVID.

While more than 92% of nursing home and other long-term care facility residents are now vaccinated for the virus, and nearly 80 percent have gotten booster shots, those who working in those facilities have apparently been reluctant to get the vaccine. According to the latest Department of Health statistics, 87% of the staff in New Jersey long-term care facilities have been vaccinated, and only 42.1% have gotten the booster.

“COVID-19 is still a threat to our New Jersey communities,” said Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Commissioner Brig. Gen. Lisa Hou in a statement. “The soldiers and airmen of the New Jersey National Guard are working hard every day to protect public health.”

Persichilli, in the governor’s announcement, said her department would continue to work closely with long-term care facilities throughout the state “to ensure that they have the staff they need.”


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