Military medical team assisting COVID-19 patients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital

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U.S. Army soldiers will start caring for COVID-19 patients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis this week.

The Department of Defense deployed a team of 25 medical personnel, as the hospital deals with staffing shortages and capacity concerns.

“It’s absolutely critical,” said Carol Koeppel-Olsen, Abbott’s chief nurse and vice president of patient care services. “Having them here allows us to open extra beds to provide health care for our community.”

The DOD team is part of the federal COVID-19 response mission, with teams currently deployed to 20 cities across the country.

Koeppel-Olsen said Abbott Northwestern, which is part of Allina Health, applied for this help from the federal government.

Allina confirms hospital staffing continues to be a challenge, with 629 workers out on Monday who either tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting a test result.

The soldiers arrived in Minnesota on Friday, spent several days training and will start caring for COVID-19 patients Wednesday.

The military medical team includes doctors, nurses, medics, respiratory therapists and a pharmacy technician.

They come from various military treatment facilities in Washington, Texas, Colorado and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Koeppel-Olsen said it is the first time Abbott Northwestern has ever had the U.S. Army serve inside the hospital.

“I mean, who’d have thought two and a half years ago we’d have the Army here in Minneapolis at Abbott Northwestern helping us care for a pandemic?” Koeppel-Olsen said.

She said the hospital has yet to see a decrease in hospitalizations, even as the current omicron wave seems to be on the decline in Minnesota, noting Abbott currently has 90 COVID-19 patients.

Hospital capacity continues to be a concern in some regions of the state, including the metro, where only 2.1% of ICU beds were available Tuesday, along with 0.8% of non-ICU beds, according to the state’s COVID-19 Response Capacity Dashboard.

“I can understand how tiring this has been on this hospital and so we are excited and happy to help,” said Staff Sgt. La Denna Ruiz, a U.S. Army pharmacy technician and senior enlisted adviser for this mission.

The soldiers will work in various units throughout the hospital, including the emergency department, medical-surgical floor and the inpatient pharmacy.

“I’ve deployed three times to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan. This is my first time being deployed in a CONUS operation for COVID response,” said Col. Robert Corson, a U.S. Army nurse and commander of the military medical team deployed to Minneapolis. “This is something we are going to talk about for the rest of our lives.”

The DOD mission in Minneapolis is expected to last 30 days but could be extended if necessary.