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National Guard Arrives at WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital, Reynolds Memorial Hospital

Photo by Derek Redd - Kelly Matusik, coordinator for the AHA training center at WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital, instructs West Virginia National Guard members Wednesday on how to wear PPE properly within the facility. Guard members arrived there and at WVU Medicine Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale to provide relief to hospital staff as the current COVID-19 surge strains resources.

WHEELING — Members of the West Virginia National Guard who arrived Wednesday morning at WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital learned quickly why they were there — and how important their arrival was.

Hospital CEO Douglass Harrison told the Guard members about the scene last week in Wheeling’s emergency department: Every bed was filled. More than 40 people were in the waiting room with hospital personnel trying to triage them. Every inpatient bed was filled.

“We couldn’t move anybody,” Harrison said.

Welcoming Guard members for the next several weeks, he said, should provide some necessary relief for hospital staff entering their third year of dealing with the pandemic.

The West Virginia National Guard will station 10 members at Wheeling Hospital and another seven at WVU Medicine Reynolds Memorial. Those at Wheeling spent Wednesday morning filling out paperwork, getting their identification badges and getting a course on the proper way to wear personal protection equipment.

Kelly Matusik stood before the Guard members showing them the proper way to wear masks and other protective garb. She’s the coordinator for the AHA training center. She also has worked at the COVID testing site. And, until Tuesday, she was at the forefront of distributing monoclonal antibody treatments.

Hospital staff have had to wear many hats since the pandemic began, Matusik said. And, at times, they’ve had to grab hats from co-workers forced to quarantine due to contracting COVID. Harrison said that, last week, more than 50 staff members were out due to the virus.

“We definitely need the help,” she said. “Our staff is tired. They’re overwhelmed. They’re emotionally spent. We’ve been doing this for over two years now. We need some relief.”

Guard members will assist in non-clinical roles. They’ll help make meals, do laundry so patients can have clean sheets and transport patients. Harrison said the 10 additional bodies the Guard is providing will be “absolutely critical” to day-to-day operations.

Matusik said the Guard members will be able to accomplish tasks that otherwise would fall on clinical staff.

“Every little bit helps,” she said. “If we can have another person just passing out ice for the day, it’s one less thing our clinical staff has to do and it’s great to have that extra resource to be able to do that.”

Staff Sgt. Jason Ross said he and his fellow Guard members were more than happy to assist in any way they could. This is Ross’ first stint in a hospital, but he had been helping with COVID issues as a member of headquarters staff.

“I feel it’s very important to help people who have been given so much and been taxed so hard in these last two years,” he said.

Harrison said the Guard members should be with the hospitals until mid-March. He made sure to thank them Wednesday both for their military service and what they will provide to the hospital. He also said they’ll be working alongside another set of heroes – the hospital staff.

“You’re going to be a welcome face,” Harrison told the Guard members. “They’re going to thank you for your service. I hope you do the same and thank them for what they’ve done.”

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