Tennessee’s governor authorized the National Guard to serve in hospitals as they struggle to maintain enough staffing, signing an executive order on Friday. But at this point, it’s unclear how they may be used.
With more than 2,500 COVID patients in Tennessee hospitals and climbing, every hospital needs staffing help. But hospital administrators don’t expect to have soldiers in fatigues treating patients at the bedside.
“At this point in time, I don’t think it’s going to be a process where hospitals are going to be able to raise their hand and ask for some National Guard support,” says Dr. Wendy Long of the Tennessee Hospital Association.
More likely, Long says hospitals may lean on the guard to handle their coronavirus testing. Guardsmen have been staffing testing centers in the community since April. The help for hospitals would free up nurses to do what they’re trained to do and work directly with patients.
Friday’s executive order also gives nurses more authority to delegate responsibilities to EMTs or medical assistants. As coronavirus spreads in the community, more nurses than ever are having to call in sick.
“We appreciate Governor Lee’s offer of assistance for hospitals from National Guard members as well as providing selected flexibilities in staff privileging at this particular time,” says Dr. Wright Pinson, deputy CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “This could significantly help hospitals across the state, including ours.”
More than 2,000 members of the Tennessee Guard have been activated in response to the pandemic, operating drive-thru testing centers as well as testing in nursing homes and prisons.