Three National Guardsmen assigned to North Big Horn Hospital provide crucial services

By Ryan Fitzmaurice

With North Big Horn Hospital still facing staffing shortages from the impact of COVID-19, National Guardsmen assigned to the hospital have proved crucial to its operations this past week, hospital officials state.

On Sept. 21, Governor Mark Gordon activated the Wyoming National Guard to provide hospital assistance, calling on the guard to augment current hospital and Wyoming Department of Health staff to help ease workloads imposed upon them due to the impacts of COVID-19.

After having 15 staff out due to testing positive and two others out due to quarantine last week, the hospital has 10 staff testing positive and two placed in quarantine this week. The large number of staff out comes at a time when the hospital is operating near full capacity.

Three National Guardsmen have so far been assigned to North Big Horn Hospital, one from Otto, one from Cowley and one from Byron. Nick Lewis, who is overseeing the management of the National Guard for the hospital, said the hospital expects two to three more guardsmen in the upcoming weeks. 

The guardsmen currently assigned are Sergeant Jaycee Townsend, Sergeant Mike Jones and Master Sergeant Wilder Hatch.

Guardsmen have been assigned to several tasks within the hospital, including overseeing the food cart, folding laundry and taking clothing to patients. The most significant need within the facility is housekeeping, Lewis said, with five employees from housekeeping currently out. 

But the staffing shortage has also impacted the nursing department and other components of NBHH that are directly responsible for maintaining a high standard of care, Human Resources Director Kirsten Bryson said. 

“Right now, department managers are working the floor. Our hospital Director of Nursing (Michael Henley) has been cleaning hospital rooms,” Bryson said. “The work the guard is doing is going to free up those managers. We’re really pleased. The three we have right now are just a huge asset. Some of the departments are a little hesitant that it was going to work out. This has exceeded their expectations.”

The guardsmen will serve in 14 to 30 day rotations with a potential to be assigned to the hospital up to December 31, Lewis said. The guardsmen
cannot aid in medical care, but along with housekeeping, their responsibilities may include food and nutrition service, COVID-19 screening, managing personal protective equipment supplies, administering COVID-19 tests  and various other support tasks.

“I don’t think we can begin to express our appreciation for these three,” Bryson said. “We pride ourselves on providing good, quality care, and everything in every department impacts that. Because of their efforts, we’re able to maintain that excellent quality of care.”