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FEMA military medical personnel arrive to cheers at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford Thursday.

FEMA military medical personnel arrive to cheers at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford Thursday. (Mark Mirko, Hartford Courant/TNS)

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HARTFORD, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — A military medical relief unit arrived Thursday to cheers from the COVID-afflicted staff at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford.

The 20 U.S. Air Force nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians and other workers will fill in for workers who are out due to infections. The contingent is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s nationwide “surge response” program.

Hospital workers gathered in the rotunda at the main entrance to cheer the airmen, who marched in single file wearing camouflage uniforms and backpacks. The troops are staying at an area hotel during the 30-day mission, hospital officials said.

Asked how many workers are out due to COVID, Saint Francis chief nursing officer Vernette Townsend said 50-60, but other officials said that number is a moving target. Hospital spokeswoman Brianna Barnes said the relief is welcome.

President Joe Biden in December directed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to ready an additional 1,000 service members — military doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other medical personnel — to deploy to hospitals during January and February, as needed.

“We know that the most critical need right now is medical staffing for our hospitals,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said at a recent White House briefing, “and we’ve been working nonstop with the Department of Defense and Health and Human Services, who have been on the ground in communities since day one to push even more medical teams out the door to communities who need it most.”

jleavenworth@courant.com

©2022 Hartford Courant.

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