When Joenes Gellada joined the National Guard, he never imagined that would mean one day training as a nursing assistant.
"Never in my wildest dreams," he said as he completed his two-week training course at Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin on Friday.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an existing shortage of healthcare workers with about one in five quitting since February 2020, according to a Morning Consult poll published in October.
"Our healthcare workers are in desperate need of our help. They're beyond exhausted," said Dr. Lisa Marie Greenwood, the associate dean of nursing at Madison College.
Last month, state officials asked the college to train National Guard troops to help alleviate the strain at hospitals and nursing homes around Wisconsin.
In early February, 70 soldiers-turned-certified nursing assistants were deployed to their postings. The next wave of 80 trainees will start work this week.
One of those facilities to receive aid was Wisconsin Dells Health Services, a long-term care facility for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's.
Before 10 National Guard soldiers arrived in January, Heather Steubinger, the director of nursing, felt she could not take the stress much longer.
"I absolutely love my job - never, ever could've imagined doing anything different with my life - until the pandemic hit," she said. "I questioned so many times, like, 'can I do this? Do I want to do this?'"
Her colleagues were quitting in droves, and hospitals were eager to shift patients to the long-term care facility to free up beds.
But the soldiers offered a lifeline.
But it's only a temporary fix. The soldiers are only signed on until mid-March, though the healthcare workers hope they will be granted an extension.
"I feel like we're all able to breathe a little bit better," Steubinger said. "It's been a blessing."
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