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Ohio National Guard balancing 'crisis' in hospitals with workforce shortage in the state

Members of the Ohio National Guard repackage emergency food boxes for food distribution at the Cleveland Food Bank, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Cleveland.
Tony Dejak
This isn't the first time during this pandemic that Ohio has called in the National Guard. In March 2020, members repackaged emergency food boxes for food distribution in Cleveland.

The Ohio National Guard is sending members to hospitals across the state to help with a surge in COVID patients. Major General John Harris Jr. says guard members will provide medical services and act in support roles.

He says the guard is working with the Ohio Department of Health and the hospital association to send troops to where they're needed the most.

"I can tell you most of it's going to be concentrated in Northeastern Ohio right now, because that seems to be where the perfect storm is occurring," he says. "You have the delta variant that's still fully there," he says. "Seventy percent of the new cases are omicron, which is creating another surge, and again that's where they're having significant staffing challenges."

Harris says only fully vaccinated guard members will be deployed. He says right now, that's about 53% of Army National Guard members. The Air National guard has about a 92% vaccination rate.

Harris says the Guard will be selective when it comes to the call-up. "We have to balance this crisis in our hospitals with the workforce shortage across the entire state," he says. "Do we pull first responders in, who have medical skills, or do we leave them on the fire department or the sheriff's department where they're currently working?"

He says a call-up during the holidays isn't easy.

"I couldn't be more proud of our guardsmen. These soldiers and airmen have shown up. Their morale has been high. And they know they're helping the community. That's the important thing. You make the case to soldiers and airmen they're helping the community, they will be there."

The call-up will include about 150 medical personnel and 900 members for support staff.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.