BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – In an effort to support West Virginia healthcare facilities during the surge of COVID-19, Governor Jim Justice has deployed the West Virginia National Guard to hospitals throughout the state.

Eight members of the National Guard will begin greeting visitors and patients to United Hospital Center on Tuesday, Jan. 25 at hospital entrances, and Guard members will also assist with the COVID-19 testing drive-thru on the Bridgeport campus.

“We welcome the National Guard to UHC,” said Michael C. Tillman president and CEO at UHC. “With Guard members in place, it will free up hospital staff to care for patients.”

Members of the West Virginia National Guard will come fully trained, and while they will look different, hospital officials assure patients that they will not notice a difference in care.

“While they’ll appear differently than nurses in burgundy scrubs and the traditional people they’re used to seeing, they are our teammates on the healthcare front. But, together, we can put some of those clinical people closer to the bedside, and we appreciate their assistance,” said Dr. Mark Povroznik, Chief Quality Officer and Chairman of Infectious Control at UHC.

Dr. Mark Povroznik, Chief Quality Officer and Chairman of Infectious Control at WVU Medicine United Hospital Center in Bridgeport (WBOY Image)

Dr. Povroznik doesn’t anticipate needing any more members of the WV National Guard and hopes to discontinue their services to the hospital on March 31.

Dr. Povroznik also gave an update on Monday about how the hospital is holding up with COVID-19 numbers rising.

As of Jan. 24, the hospital has 49 hospital staff out due to quarantine. While the hospital employs more than 2,000 employees, Dr. Povroznik said any number of staff missing is difficult for staff.

“Any staff members who are out is always a shift in responsibility for others. Certainly, 49 out of the total 2,300 that we employ may seem like a small number, but, when you split that down to who’s working clinical functions and who’s working non-clinical rolls that could be set aside until they recover from quarantine, it starts to create different challenges. You layer on top of that vacancies, and there’s been a national shortage in nursing positions since before the pandemic. When you mirror the two together, any loss in staff can create more anxiety when your goal is to provide the best care you can and meet every patient’s needs, always. It just creates a layer of challenge,” said Dr. Povroznik.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have remained stable, according to Dr. Povroznik. As of Jan. 24, 42 patients were hospitalized, 12 in the ICU and seven on ventilators. He said the number in the ICU has “crept up” over the past week.

“Our leadership keeps an eye on these metrics every single day. The staff do remain tired,” he said.

The West Virginia National Guard trained a number of soldiers in early January to aid hospitals across the state and provide relief amidst staff shortages and spiking COVID cases. In his Wednesday virtual COVID briefing, Gov. Justice announces that 200 more National Guard soldiers will be trained at Camp Dawson to help help the state’s hospitals.

Officials have already approved National Guard assistance for Grafton City Hospital in Taylor County and the Charleston Area Medical Center in Kanawha County.

National Guard members who are not pictured above are Specialist Jonathan Johnson; Staff Sargent Ian Miller; and Lieutenant Colonel James Stenack.