Wisconsin National Guard COVID CNA training, hospitals strained

Data shows nearly 92% of hospital beds are in use and more than half of hospitals are at overall peak capacity amid COVID-19. Wisconsin National Guard volunteers are taking on the mission of certified nursing assistant training at Madison College.

"Our CNAs, they’re the backbone of the care delivery in the long-term care setting," said Rick Abrams, Wisconsin Health Care Association and Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living.

Lately, that backbone has been more strained than ever.

"The pandemic exacerbated the labor shortage," said Abrams.

To lighten the load, Wisconsin National Guard volunteers are taking on the mission of certified nursing assistant training.

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"It is a new mission for us," said Major Joe Trovato, Wisconsin National Guard. "Help getting dressed. All basic daily living functions. That’s what a CNA is there to do."

Already during the month of January, 50 National Guard troops with such training have started helping at nursing homes, including the Bay at St. Ann Health Rehabilitation Center in Milwaukee.

By Friday, Jan. 21, 80 more troops will complete their CNA training.

"We expect that will free up in the neighborhood of another 175 or potentially as many as 200 additional beds, so we’re very pleased with the progress," said Karen Timberlake, Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

"Every bed space you can open up is huge," said Trovato. 

With more CNAS, other health care workers can be redistributed to high-need facilities like hospitals.

"Is it going to fix the problem? No. But will it help? Absolutely," said Abrams. 

There are long-term solutions to the long-term care staffing shortage, like wage increases, Abrams, said, but in the meantime, the National Guard will take some stress off their shoulders.

"We’re going to press on," said Abrams. "We’re going to get through this because we have to."

Another 80 troops will soon start CNA training and deploy by the end of February. In total, the National Guard says they’ll have more than 200 trained CNAS, with a goal of eventually opening up 300 or more beds in the state.

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