Students among Oregon National Guard soldiers help overwhelmed hospitals
ASHLAND – Pauline Vaivao, a 21-year-old Oregon Army National Guard soldier, is stationed at the emergency entrance to Asante Ashland Community Hospital.
His job: to lead patients inside and tell tearful family members they can’t stay due to an all-time high for COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant.
Vaivao is one of some 270 National Guard soldiers called upon to perform non-medical duties at hospitals in southern Oregon experiencing major peaks of coronavirus in counties with below-average vaccination rates. State, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
Part-time soldiers – who are mostly from the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry at Ashland – started Monday at Asante hospitals in Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass, as well as Providence Medical Center Medford and CHI Mercy Health in Roseburg.
While on assignment, which can last up to six weeks, Soldiers perform critical, non-clinical tasks, such as serving meals to patients and delivering supplies, freeing up hospital workers to perform jobs that require more than training.
Soldiers are also tasked with alerting security personnel if there are explosions in the anxiety-filled waiting rooms of hospitals.
“We are here to relieve stress for employees,” said Master Sgt. Nate Helsel, who is in charge of a fluctuating number of approximately 20 National Guard personnel assigned to Ashland Hospital. “The staff express how grateful they are to have us and appreciate the way we are adapting to changes. “
Like Vaivao, many of the soldiers under Helsel’s command are students at the University of Southern Oregon in Ashland who enlisted for benefits including help with tuition fees.
‘EVERYTHING CAN HAPPEN’
Vaivao, wearing a face mask and an army combat uniform, was positioned behind a transparent barrier at Ashland Hospital at the start of her eight-hour shift on Saturday.
As a young student at Southern Oregon University, she studied psychology and hopes to use her bachelor’s degree to counsel people undergoing medical treatment. But spending time in an emergency department is new to her.
“Anything can happen, and a lot is happening,” she said, “but the staff are confident. These are the heroes here.
Vaivao moved to Oregon from American Samoa to graduate from college, find adventure, and leave the South Pacific island where she grew up.
“Escape from the rock,” she said.
She enlisted in the National Guard in the first year. And last September, while living in a dormitory, she was guarding the Talent quarters that burned down in the Almeda fire.
In September, his military service will overlap with his classes again.
“It will be a challenge, but I learned to juggle two jobs and other responsibilities,” said Vaivao, who is married to an army soldier stationed in Tacoma.
Vaivao joined the Guard to receive free classes at a public college in Oregon. Others want to learn a trade like construction or welding, said Sgt. Erik Andreason, who is one of the Oregon Army National Guard’s most compelling recruiters.
Benefits also include low-cost health care and access to US Department of Veterans Affairs home loans that don’t require a down payment.
Andreason, who teaches military science at South Medford High School, said his recruits agree to spend about a weekend training each month and can be deployed if their unit is called to serve anywhere in the world. . In return, they select paid employment in the National Guard where they want to live.
Since World War II, 1 to 186 combat infantry from southern Oregon, known as the Guardians of the West Gate, have been dispatched to wage wars and carry out dangerous peacekeeping missions. .
They also have mobilized to fight wildfires and help Americans recover from devastating floods and hurricanes. And they helped medical teams at walk-in and drive-through coronavirus vaccination clinics earlier this year at the Jackson County Expo in Central Point.
Vaivao is not worried about fulfilling his six-year enlistment in the National Guard.
“As with my past activation, I feel comfortable knowing that I have a huge support system,” she said. “I’m going to take on a new challenge and take it on. “
– Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072