Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – For the last few months, the national guard has been bolstering the staff of long-term care facilities around the state. The collaboration was able to create more hospital availability to care for COVID-19 patients. At the height of the omicron variant’s surge, hospital beds quickly filled with COVID-19 patients.

To create more availability, people who required long-term care needed to be moved to facilities like La Crosse County’s Hillview Health Care Center. Even though Hillview had open space, campus administrator Kelly Kramer didn’t have the staff to cover it.

“We did not have enough CNA’s or nurses, but if we had those supports, we could take patients that would allow families to stay together; we would free up space for others in our community who needed that hospital placement,” said Kramer.

That same scenario was being seen across the state, so the Wisconsin National Guard was asked to step in.

“The Guard is called out for state emergencies, so fires, floods; this was the first time that the Guard is actually working that close with the public,” said Kramer.

Guard members were trained as CNA’s and sent to aid staff at Hillview and other care centers that needed help. With the extra staff in place, Gundersen Health System was able to send 63 patients that needed more specialized care to Hillview.

“That is an incredible amount of patients that otherwise would have been sitting at Gundersen Health System taking up a bed for a patient who had an acute care need.”

As the mission progressed, colonel Randall Myszka says some guard members ended up finding a new career.

“It drummed up a lot of interest in health care because, for the most part, they’re actually doing an internship, they’re actually seeing what it’s like firsthand to be not on a screen but actually taking care of a person,” said Myszka.

With COVID slowing down, Hillview no has enough staff to adequately care for its patient population. The National Guard will officially end its deployment at the health care center on Sunday.

About 300 members of the Wisconsin National Guard were positioned at long-term care sites. The guard estimates about one-third of those people are planning to pursue careers in health care.