Minnesota National Guard soldiers train as certified nursing assistants

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Minnesota National Guard soldiers reported for duty Tuesday to train as certified nursing assistants as part of the state’s COVID-19 response.

Minnesota currently leads the nation in COVID-19 case rate and is dealing with a high number of hospitalizations. There were no staffed ICU beds available in the metro area Tuesday and just 23 open ICU beds statewide.

To help alleviate the capacity crisis, the state opened another alternative care site Tuesday at Benedictine Living Community-Regina in Hastings. The nursing home will provide 17 beds that can be used for patients who need non-emergency care.

Since November, it is the fourth alternative care site to open in Minnesota, joining Cerenity Marian in St. Paul, Benedictine St. Gertrude’s in Shakopee and Good Samaritan Society – Bethany in Brainerd.

Hospitals transfer patients who need lower-level care to these sites as a means of reserving hospital space for those with critical needs.

The four sites provide a total of 105 beds for step-down care.

The Minnesota National Guard helped staff the first three sites, with 15 soldiers working alongside facility staff at each location. They have not been mobilized for the fourth site.

The 150 soldiers who reported for duty Tuesday will get 75 hours of medical training as certified nursing assistants. They will then be sent to work at long-term care facilities across the state to help fill critical needs due to staffing shortages.

"A lot of us gladly volunteered to come and see what we could do," said Sgt. Andrew Syvertson of St. Cloud, who has served with the Minnesota National Guard for four years. "I think it will have a very positive impact due to all of us being activated to help out with it. I think it’s really going to get everyone back on their feet."

The soldiers joined 300 other Minnesota National Guard members who started training several weeks ago for the same purpose.

"It’s been a very rewarding experience for the soldiers that are there. It has helped alleviate pressure on the facilities," said Lt. Col. Brian Douty, officer-in-charge for Task Force COVID. "It’s a great partnership we have built with those facilities. It’s a very important mission."

Douty said they do not know how long the missions involving long-term care facilities and alternative care sites will last.

Three of the four alternative care sites opened by the state are nursing home communities owned by Benedictine.

Benedictine President and CEO Jerry Carley said they offered the open beds at their facilities to the state in an effort to help with hospital overflow issues.

"I’ve been doing this 30 years. I have never seen this before, ever," Carley said. "But we serve those in need, and there’s a need. There’s certainly a need."

Carley said the transition has gone smoothly, and each site is admitting three to five new patients every day.