Air Force nurses head to North Dakota as hospitals prepare for surge in coronavirus cases

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Charles "Brock" Miller, M.D., right, assigned to the 59th Medical Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, talks with a nurse about patient care at the University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, Nov. 11, 2020.


By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 20, 2020

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AUSTIN, Texas — About 60 Air Force medical personnel will deploy through the weekend to North Dakota to support civilian hospitals struggling to meet the increase of coronavirus patients as the number of infected Americans continue to rise across the country.

The teams are made up primarily of nurses, including critical-care nurses, and were requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help in North Dakota, which has seen active cases nearly double in the last month to 9,915, according to state health information updated Thursday.

“Our actions demonstrate our steadfast commitment to help communities in need as part of the whole-of-America response to the [coronavirus] pandemic in support of FEMA,” said Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, which is overseeing military operations in support of FEMA.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said the state’s hospitals are projecting a surge in coronavirus patients in the coming weeks and is grateful for the Defense Department’s resources to help save lies and alleviate pressure.

“These dedicated Air Force personnel will help relieve the stress on North Dakota’s more than 20,000 nurses who continue to work tirelessly to provide exceptional care for patients under incredibly challenging conditions,” Burgum said.

While North Dakota has one of the country’s highest reports of coronavirus cases per capita, it’s not alone in its struggle to control the spread. The U.S. on Thursday reported 185,424 new cases, a record since the pandemic began.

Earlier this month, about 60 Air Force medical personnel deployed to El Paso, Texas, where they have embedded themselves into area hospitals. Richardson visited El Paso this week and heard that the military personnel brought a boost of energy for hospital staff. The staff has been struck by the depth and breadth of the impact of coronavirus on the community, said Col. Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for Army North.

As troops arrive in North Dakota, he said they will undergo a familiarization process and likely begin working by the end of the week. The hospitals gaining military support are Essentia Health-Fargo and Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, CHI St. Alexius Health Medical Center and Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck, Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, and Trinity Hospital-St Joseph’s in Minot.

“North Dakotans can expect the same high-quality care we’ve provided in other cities across the U.S. as we continue to coordinate alongside our local, state and federal partners to respond to the pandemic and help save lives,” Richardson said.

Troops are coming from several locations, including Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and Randolph, Texas; Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.; and Joint Base Andrews, Md.

Under the command of Army North, members of the Michigan Army National Guard’s 46th Military Police Command will deploy to Bismarck to assist in the arrival of the Air Force medical teams. Elements of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 377th Theater Sustainment Command from New Orleans, La., the 4th Expeditionary Sustainment Command from San Antonio and the 1st Infantry Division’s Sustainment Brigade from Fort Riley, Kan., will also provide support to the medical personnel.

Twitter: @Rose_Lori