The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is overwhelming hospitals across Wisconsin. Over half the state’s facilities are either at or over capacity. Nine out of every 10 hospital beds are filled, and 95% of the state’s ICU beds are occupied. Nurses are feeling the pain. Many have had to call out sick, leaving providers with more patients than normal.
To help ease the crisis, Gov. Tony Evers announced that the Wisconsin National Guard will train as certified nursing assistants (CNAs).
Learning New Skills
Evers and several state health officials announced the details of the plan during a press conference on Thursday. They said 50 members of the National Guard have already been deployed to six nursing homes across the state and another 80 will begin training as CNAs this week. They are set to be deployed at the end of January and another 80 will begin training in February.
“The folks that are out have already gone through that minimum 16-hour training course,” said Karen Timberlake, the secretary designee for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “They will then, if they choose to continue on and become certified nursing assistants, they will complete a longer course of study over time.”
Several of the members of the National Guard have just returned from a tour in Afghanistan.
“I welcomed people off the plane and encouraged them to consider becoming nurses’ assistants and continuing their good work in that area just today,” said Evers.
He also said the state is working with several staffing agencies to help recruit 626 healthcare workers at 76 different facilities.
The training is being provided by Madison Area Technical College.
Lisa Greenwood, associate dean of nursing at the school, says there’s always been an acute shortage of nursing assistants, but the situation has reached a crisis level as we approach the two-year anniversary of the pandemic.
“These are very challenging times. It’s been a long two years,” Greenwood said. “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.”
As for the members that want to become CNAs, Greenwood and her colleagues will conduct a 75-hour nurse aide training program that comes with two digital badges.
“Digital badge one completes the first 16 hours of a nurse aide course prior to any patient or resident contact,” she said. “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.”
Greenwood says the National Guard has been extremely helpful throughout the crisis. She believes they are more than ready to learn the ins and outs of healthcare.
“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.”
The number of new COVID-19 cases in the state topped 13,000 for the first time on Wednesday. However, the death rate has declined in recent days with a seven-day average of 24 deaths. The state’s vaccination rate is currently at 58.6% with 62.7% having received at least one dose, which is slightly below the national rate.