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Wisconsin asks National Guard personnel to become certified nursing assistants


A record number of COVID cases in Wisconsin has pushed over half the state's hospitals to peak capacity. Nine out of every 10 hospital beds is filled, and 95% of the state's ICU beds are occupied. And nursing shortages are at crisis levels. So Wisconsin's governor, Tony Evers, is mobilizing the state National Guard and asking dozens of troops to become certified nursing aides.

Joining us now is Lisa Greenwood. She's an associate dean of nursing at Madison Area Technical College, which will be providing the training.

Good morning.

LISA GREENWOOD: Good morning. How are you?

ELLIOTT: I'm good. Did you ever think you'd be in this position, where you'd be training National Guard members to become nursing assistants?

GREENWOOD: Prior to the COVID pandemic, no, Debbie. However, you know, there's always been an acute shortage of nursing assistants, not only across the state but across the country - and that we're embarking on our two-year anniversary, and we have exhausted staff. We have demand that exceeds supply. It makes sense in this context and in this moment that Wisconsin is assessing and utilizing all of their resources necessary to help the communities across Wisconsin.

ELLIOTT: Sounds like it's just an unbelievable strain on the system.

GREENWOOD: These are very challenging times. It's been a long two years. Our staff in our long-term care facilities, our hospitals are beyond exhausted and they desperately need our help. And this is one solution to provide them some relief and to help provide high-quality care to the community members across the state of Wisconsin.

ELLIOTT: So let's talk exactly what you're going to be training these National Guard members to do.

GREENWOOD: Certainly. At Madison College, we are providing a 75-hour nurse aide training in the form of a digital badge or digital credentialing. And so there are a total of two badges and supervised practical training. Digital badge one completes the first 16 hours of a nurse aide course prior to any patient or resident contact. So it includes things like understanding and applying resident rights, safety, infection control and emergency procedures, as well as just good communication and interpersonal skills in that environment. The second digital badge really focuses on basic nursing skills - so things like activities of daily living, personal care skills - so helping with mobility, feeding, walking, dressing. Students also review, again, concepts of communication roles and responsibilities. And then we also provide supervised practical training in our labs, where our students will have the opportunity to practice those skills on individuals before they go to the area communities across Wisconsin as part of their deployment mission.

ELLIOTT: Now, this sounds like a lot of ground to cover. How soon do you expect to have these National Guard graduates out working in hospitals and in other settings?

GREENWOOD: Sure. Yep, that's an excellent question. We started our first deployment flight on January 10, and we are completing our first group actually this week. So we're completing this training in about nine to 10 days with the National Guard.

ELLIOTT: That's pretty quickly.

GREENWOOD: That's pretty quickly for 75 hours.

ELLIOTT: What are you hearing from the National Guard members that you're training? How are they responding to this role?

GREENWOOD: Sure. The National Guard members that we have the privilege of working with have been doing an incredible amount of work over the last couple of years with COVID. These are individuals who have been also assisting in efforts like screening across our communities and doing COVID testing. So these are individuals who actually have expressed an interest in this kind of work. They have been absolutely phenomenal students to work with - very dedicated, diligent, hardworking and excited about the work that they're doing.

ELLIOTT: How many National Guard members do you expect to train as nursing assistants through this process?

GREENWOOD: At this moment in time we have approximately 80 National Guard members, and we are in collaboration with the Department of Health Services, who was the organization who put the National Guard and Madison Area Technical College together. And we are planning a second wave of students for up to an additional 80 students starting the end of January.

ELLIOTT: Lisa Greenwood is associate dean of nursing at Madison Area Technical College.

Thank you so much.

GREENWOOD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.