On the front lines
National Guard helping out at EMRMC

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, September 23, 2021

The National Guard has been helping out at hospitals around the state, including at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center.

Since Sept. 15, 11 soldiers from the 63rd Aviation Brigade group based out of Frankfort have stationed themselves at the hospital on a volunteer basis — they were not mandated to work there. This is in response to the latest surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations and staff shortage.

1st Sgt. Dylan Molohon of the Army National Guard said, “Ultimately, our goal here is to provide the non-clinical support here at the hospital, to free up the actual medical staff to be more engaged in their medical duties rather than doing the logistical stuff.”

The soldiers have been performing housekeeping duties and transporting patients, among other tasks. One of their biggest duties is helping out with screenings for COVID-19 symptoms at entrances.

“A lot of the employees here have been tasked with those assignments as additional duties, and so they’ve been pulled away from their full-time jobs,” Molohon said. “That’s exactly why we’re here — to fill that void.”

The soldiers shadowed staff as they performed duties and had an orientation to learn what to do, and they caught on quickly.

Daniel McKay, president and CEO of Ephraim McDowell Health, said, “They’ve been a great addition — the attitude and jumping in, and it’s not easy work. It’s hard work, and they just jumped in.”

McKay said when it comes to the staff shortage, “Volume is so high, so much higher this time, with COVID patients, in particular.” Not only that, but the hospital has seen staff leave due to various factors, including for the opportunity to take traveling positions around the country because it has lucrative pay. Additionally, about 50 hospital workers lost their jobs “because they refused to be vaccinated,” according to a news release from The Women’s Network of Boyle County from a meeting during which McKay and other local health leaders shared information surrounding COVID-19.

And in general, EMRMC and hospitals around the state struggle to fill entry-level jobs in roles like housekeeping. EMH is looking to get creative and look at its pay scale, since entry-level jobs at the hospital are lower pay and hard work, McKay said.

Currently, there are more than 200 job openings at EMRMC alone. McKay said there are approximately 33 in housekeeping and dietary.

With the introduction of the National Guard soldiers into the hospital, McKay said he, staff, the board of trustees, and patients are incredibly grateful they’re there. It comes with relief for staff and a heightened sense of security.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and here’s the National Guard stepping in and helping us,” McKay said.

Molohon said, “We definitely get the feeling that there’s a positive morale here, while we’ve been here and our interactions with the staff. Morale has always been a big thing within the military in general because we’re placed in conditions sometimes where it’s tough to keep that morale high.”

McKay said patients seem to enjoy interacting with the soldiers; they’ll ask where they’re from and if they know certain individuals in the Guard or the military, for example.

Molohon said he and several members of the Guard team stationed at the hospital have been on several orders related to COVID-19 since March 2020 — at different long-term medical facilities, vaccine and mobile test sites, and food donation centers, for example.

“And I can honestly say that us just being here at this hospital has been one of the better fits for our team, and the reception that we’ve received here has been so warm and so welcoming,” he said. “It truly makes our team feel as if we are contributing to the cause, which makes us feel good about what we do, not just in our day-to-day jobs, but as soldiers, in a sense because that is why a lot of us signed up to join the military, is to be able to give back to our communities, and that’s exactly what this scenario has played out to be. It’s us soldiers stepping up, getting involved in our communities and providing that relief and that support.”