National Guard gives pandemic help

Retirement communities in Indiana, Pennsylvania welcome assistance

An Indiana National Guard serviceman checks for body temperature at the screening desk of the Greencroft Communities campus in Goshen. — Greencroft Communities An Indiana National Guard serviceman checks for body temperature at the screening desk of the Greencroft Communities campus in Goshen. — Greencroft Communities

AS COVID-19 cases surged across the United States this fall, outbreaks resulted in the National Guard lending a hand at multiple facilities with Anabaptist roots.

Messiah Lifeways, a Brethren in Christ-founded retirement community in Mechanicsburg, Pa., requested an evaluation from the National Guard and received the maximum allotment of personnel based on its staffing. Marketing and communications manager Katie Andreano said 20 individuals began working for eight days beginning Nov. 16.

“We had never had a COVID-19 case in our nursing residents until this outbreak began the first week of November,” she said.

As of Dec. 1, Messiah Lifeways had 34 resident deaths and 45 resident recoveries out of 109 total infections.

Johns Hopkins University reported weekly new COVID cases in the general U.S. population rose by 330% to more than 1 million new cases the week of Nov. 15.

Cases rose so quickly in Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb sent members of the Indiana National Guard to help staff nursing homes. When he made the announcement Oct. 21, more than 2,200 residents of nursing homes or assisted living facilities in the state had died of COVID, representing roughly 58% of the state’s coronavirus deaths.

Greencroft Communities, based in Goshen, received two or three National Guard representatives at each of its campuses in early November. No end date for the assistance has been given.

“They are helping us with the screening desk at the front where we take temperatures and make sure there is appropriate personal protection equipment,” said Aimee Riemke, vice president of marketing. “In many locations they have alleviated staff time, and then our team members can go and spend more time with our residents, so that’s a great thing.”

Two hours southeast in Berne, Swiss Village received two National Guardsmen in mid-November. Michelle McIntosh, vice president of marketing and public relations at the Mennonite-founded facility, said they have been screening employees as they come to work, cleaning high-touch areas, sorting and stocking personal protective equipment and helping with meal delivery.

So far this year, all 73 employees with COVID have recovered. Six residents have died out of 62 who have tested positive. McIntosh said staff have not heard concerns from residents about the military presence.

“I don’t know that they know, because they’re not dressed in their [military] gear, they’re in their normal gear,” she said. “So most likely our residents just think they are another employee.”

Greencroft requested personnel not show up in uniform and provided health-care worker scrubs so their presence would not be alarming.

“We let our residents know they’d be coming, and the people serving in the National Guard are in the local community, so we haven’t had any problems,” Riemke said. “Nobody has mentioned any concerns. Most of our residents recognize the stress and strain of COVID and recognize that additional help is a godsend to us.”

Messiah Lifeways in Pennsylvania reported similar feedback to their augmented staffing, who have also dressed in civilian clothing.

“They were certainly there on a peace-filled mission to minister to our residents, and I think everybody understood that service,” Andreano said. “Our responsibility is to serve our residents with Christlike love, and to do that the responsible thing to do was to request outside help.”

Tim Huber

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. Read More

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!