Oregon, Tennessee enlist National Guard to help hospitals amid COVID-19 surge

Oregon and Tennessee are deploying National Guard members to support front-line hospital workers battling a COVID-19 surge fueled by the delta variant. 

The Tennessee Department of Health announced the deployment Aug. 16, the same day it reported about 2,200 COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

Although that hospitalization count is down from 3,300, the peak in January, staffing concerns that have persisted for years are worse because workers are getting sick, and people have left their profession, Lisa Piercey, MD, commissioner of the Tennessee department of health, said during a media briefing. She attributed the strain on hospitals not only to COVID-19, but also to other respiratory illnesses affecting children. 

"You have an already full hospital with staffing and worsening staffing concerns, [and] when you put extra COVID-19 patients on top of that, [it] tips scales in this situation," said Dr. Piercey. 

That's where she said military personnel who can do medical procedures or have medical training can step in to help augment existing staff. 

The Tennessee Department of Health did not disclose the number of National Guard members being brought in to support healthcare workers. The department said hospitals in the state may request medical personnel resources and must meet specific criteria to qualify for assistance. 

Oregon is also deploying National Guard members. 

Gov. Kate Brown announced that 500 members will be deployed to Oregon hospitals, beginning Aug. 20.

Ms. Brown said the members will provide logistical support to hospitals as materials handlers and equipment runners, as well as help with COVID-19 testing and other services. The state plans to deploy up to 1,500 members, the governor said. 

On Aug. 16, the Oregon Health Authority reported 752 COVID-19 hospitalizations across Oregon, nine more than the day prior. The authority also reported 206 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit beds, 11 more than the day prior.

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