Senior Airman Kameron Kelly had been home in Spokane for just a couple of months when the call came for help at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
“As soon as I saw Sacred Heart, I said, ‘Yep, that’s perfect,’ ” said Kelly, 28, before a shift with the National Guard in the hospital’s emergency department Wednesday afternoon. “That’s where my dad’s been for over 20 years. I was born and raised in Spokane.”
The Mt. Spokane High School graduate and son of Ed Kelly, assistant manager of environmental services for the hospital, is one of 19 National Guard members who answered the call to assist during a surge in COVID-19 cases. The team is mostly from Spokane and Idaho, said Technical Sgt. Michael Brown of the 141st Security Forces Squadron of the Washington Air National Guard.
“This really is a local, hometown mission,” Brown said. “Everyone that has stepped up is from this area.”
The Guard members have been working shifts in the emergency department since their arrival in late January and running through Feb. 19. For Kelly, it means a shift from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., checking in with the charge nurse in the emergency department and helping serve patients, whether there for COVID-19 care or something else.
That can mean stocking carts with medical supplies or serving as a “sitter,” said Darrell Ruby, emergency manager at Providence.
In such a role, Guard members are asked to stay with patients who might have additional mental or behavioral challenges, a job that usually falls to nurses staffing the department, Ruby said.
“We were expecting 10, and we ended up getting 19,” Ruby said of the Guard volunteers. “That allowed us to deploy them in more areas than we had originally anticipated.”
Kelly, who served active duty in the U.S. Air Force in South Korea during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak and was later stationed in California until October, said the experience of working in the hospital has given him a newfound respect for health care, even with his father’s experience in the field.
“It’s a busy night,” Kelly said. “There’s never really a dull moment in the ER.”
Members not working in the emergency department have helped trace any infections among staff, and helped outfit medical workers in a hospital caring for dozens of patients who have contracted COVID-19.
One of their tasks is to help nurses, doctors and other workers who come in contact with COVID-19 patients get fitted for N95 masks, form-fitting face protection that is strongly recommended by the hospital throughout work shifts.
The hospital had many of its staff members out sick when the omicron variant began spreading rapidly through the region, Ruby said, exacerbating the need for help from Guard members.
The staff members who were sickened are returning to work, leaving the department in better shape for when the mission ends Feb. 19.
“We’re certainly not back to good staffing levels,” Ruby said. “Our staffing is improving.”
Working with staff and the public has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Kelly said.
“A lot of them asked questions on why we’re here,” Kelly said. “They’re definitely grateful that we’re here.”
Ruby, a retired Navy commander, said he welcomed the Guard’s presence in the hospital – not only for help caring for patients, but because of the pride that comes in seeing service members help their community.
“I take a tremendous amount of pride seeing the members in uniform,” Ruby said.
Kelly said the assignment has allowed him to help the community he grew up in and the hospital where he used to visit his dad.
It has also allowed him, after several years of serving in active duty all over the world, to come home at night and be a dad to his young son, who was born during the pandemic .
“There’s a lot of freedom in the mission, to where I’m able to go home every single night,” he said. “I definitely missed being a dad.”