State tapping into FEMA, National Guard resources to help with staffing amid COVID-19 surge

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin's COVID-19 surge is having ripple effects throughout the state's health care system, pushing leaders to pull in resources to help fill in gaps.

During a media briefing on Dec. 8, Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said the recent surge has caused a staffing issue in the state's hospitals more than a space issue, even though ICU beds are running scarce.

"We will continue to make every effort to make sure our hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living providers have what they need to care for all of us," Timberlake said.

Efforts include contracting health care workers from out of state using federal dollars.

The state is also requesting help from FEMA in the form of 100 medical workers to help alleviate staffing shortages.

"We will have some response very quickly from our federal partners," Timberlake explained. "And I would expect that we are talking about a matter of weeks, not months before those resources are available to us."

In a statement to CBS 58, a FEMA spokesperson said the agency has received Gov. Tony Evers' request for resources. They added, "FEMA is working with our federal partners to determine the best way to support the state's request.

The state is also continuing to use National Guard resources, including for new roles.

"We have about 60 troops that are now serving as temporary nursing assistants at a select group of mental health facilities," Maj. Joe Trovato of the Wisconsin National Guard told CBS 58. "And those troops are just performing very basic assistance functions to CNAs and registered nurses that are working at those facilities."

The four facilities using those 60 troops include Winnebago Mental Health Institute, Mendota Mental Health Institute, Central Wisconsin Center, and Southern Wisconsin Center in Union Gove.

On top of those new roles, the Guard continues to be utilized for COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts.

Maj. Trovato said the Guard is prepared to help with additional requests as the pandemic continues.

"We absolutely stand ready to assist in any way that we can, just as we have throughout the pandemic," Trovato said.

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