Guard activated at Laconia hospital

January 21, 2022

Concord Monitor – The Laconia Daily Sun | By Jon Decker

LACONIA — Four members of the New Hampshire National Guard arrived at Concord Hospital in Laconia on Wednesday. Their mission: to assist the hospital in a variety of roles. An influx of COVID patients, burnout, and staffing shortages in almost every sector has forced many states, including New Hampshire, to call in the National Guard for support.

“As of today we have 250 guardsmen and women supporting operation Winter Surge,” said Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire National Guard.

Operation Winter Surge is the designation to the most recent deployment of National Guard personnel in the state. The operation includes 22 hospitals, nine long-term care health care facilities, the men’s state prison, warehouse operations to distribute personal protective equipment and other essential equipment, and a variety of administrative support roles.

“I know there’s a lot of staff that have been out with COVID or other things,” said 1st Lt. Ryan Smith of the National Guard. “Hospitals are full of patients, so I think that extra help is important, so we’re just here to help wherever we can.”

Five guard personnel will be stationed in the area: Four at Concord Hospital – Laconia, and one at the hospital in Franklin. Ideally, their presence will help alleviate some of the burden faced by understaffed facilities. All five will be tasked with a variety of roles, from foodservice to screening visitors.

“Right now, we are planning to be here through mid-March. Maybe towards the end of March,” said Lt. Smith.

For the hospitals, the help is more than welcome.

“As far as I know, it might be the first time we’ve ever had the guard here,” said Concord Hospital Laconia Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Donovan.

“There has been a lack of workforce in the entire country and in our region as well, and it’s not just in some of the areas like nursing and clinical folks. It’s in places like foodservice, transporters and people who work in administrative areas,” Donovan explained, “so while the guard that is here is not clinical in terms of direct patient care, they will be surrounding our patient care providers and helping them in any way they can, whether it’s moving patients, serving meals or doing greeting services to screen people before they come into our facilities.”

When asked of the hospital’s available resources and capacity, Donovan said every day is a challenge, but so far the hospital is managing.

“We have been fortunate that every day we have put the pieces together, but getting the workforce to meet patient demand and getting the space and the resources to meet patient demand has been challenging,” Donovan said. “I believe this morning we have 17 inpatient COVID patients here, and the high we’ve seen is 25.”

Although 17 doesn’t sound like a very high number, Donovan said about a quarter of the hospital’s inpatients were COVID patients. “And that’s from an inpatient perspective. When you look at our emergency room volume, the percentages are probably higher in terms of people who come and have illnesses related to COVID and they might end up getting admitted. The burden from COVID is pretty high.”

Ten guard members have been stationed at Concord Hospital since Dec. 13. “There’s quite a few service members. Air and Army Guard deployed across the state. We’ve broken it down into five regions,” said Lt. Smith, who is assigned as a team leader in the Lakes Region. “I am going to a couple of long-term care facilities and then a couple more hospitals. I will be down at Concord Hospital today, Hillsborough County Nursing Home, Merrimack County Nursing Home.”