Heroes Helping Heroes

Last September, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul signed an executive order allowing her to deploy the National Guard and bring in healthcare workers from out-of-state to alleviate staff shortages at hospitals and other care facilities due to the challenges of the COVID-10 pandemic. By early December she was dispatching troops to hospitals and nursing homes across the state.

National Guard and Heritage Ministries

Heritage Ministries President and CEO, Lisa Haglund, shared this week that Heritage skilled nursing communities in Chautauqua County chose to accept assistance from the National Guard at their skilled nursing and rehabilitation communities in Chautauqua County.

“The pandemic has presented so many challenges for the healthcare community, and we continue to explore additional opportunities to support our employees. While our staffing ratios have remained higher than many healthcare organizations nationally throughout the pandemic, this week, at our request, members of the National Guard arrived at our rehabilitation and skilled nursing communities in Chautauqua County as a part of Governor Hochul and New York State’s on-going commitment and pledge to assist our healthcare community in our time of need. We welcome the National Guard soldiers, their passion to serve, and their support with open arms as we all work together to provide for our beloved residents, as we have for over 135 years,” she shared.

Haglund explained that National Guard service men and women will provide much-needed temporary assistance and relief to front-line teams at Heritage who have heroically and tirelessly led the way since March 2020 for the organization.

She continued, “I cannot begin to thank our valued employees enough for all they have done, and continue to do. Again, and again, they rise to the occasion, offering help whenever, and wherever, it is needed, despite constant challenges, including ever-changing regulations, vaccine mandates, and staffing obstacles, always placing the care of our residents as their top priority. They truly are the reason we continue to remain #HeritageStrong.”

While at Heritage, the National Guard members are working alongside Heritage staff to support staff and residents in various roles, including housekeeping, dietary services, maintenance, and resident visits and companionship.

Soldiers Arriving at the Right Time

Jennifer Whitten, Heritage Chief Operating Officer, shared that the arrival of the National Guard troops came at just the right time for current Heritage staff in Chautauqua County, who have battled the pandemic, and all the challenges associated with it, including staffing obstacles. “The National Guard men and women are a tremendous help to our front-line staff in our communities. We work constantly to show our staff that we care – to alleviate as many stresses as we possibly can. They are exhausted from the constant and changing demands that have been put on them since the pandemic began. Our decision to request assistance from the National Guard has been another way we can show our support. The National Guard assistance allows our staff to serve our residents in a greater capacity- allowing for more hands-on care and in some cases, provide respite time for those staff who need it.”

Whitten discussed that the National Guard assistance at Heritage also benefits additional institutions in Chautauqua County who have experienced the challenges the pandemic has presented.

“This is an unprecedented time in healthcare. Hospitals cannot discharge to skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities because they are not fully staffed. Having the Guard soldiers here allows our staffing to support additional admissions. Heritage is then able to help the hospital system manage their higher numbers of patients, which was Governor Hochul’s intent with the Executive Order authorizing the use of the National Guard,” said Whitten.

Military Support

Whitten shared that Heritage residents have also welcomed the National Guard as well. “Many of our residents are veterans themselves, or come from military families, and are so supportive of their new presence in our communities as they assist our staff. They have enjoyed spending time with the soldiers discussing their own experiences in the military, participating in activities, and watching them work with our staff as a team. We had one resident in a memory care unit who had served as an Army nurse. She was so excited to see some of the National Guard members and thanked them for their service, which was immediately returned by them thanking her for hers. She spent tearful and joyous time with them talking and reminiscing. It’s heart-warming to see our generations connecting over such common bonds.”

Haglund added, “Just like our current teams at Heritage, our National Guard men and women have dedicated themselves to a mission of serving and caring for others. It’s an honor to have our Heritage heroes and the National Guard working together to serve our greatest generation, our seniors, many of whom are veterans themselves.”

“We’re blessed to able to help our healthcare system to continue to serve those in need during this historically challenging time.” she continued. “We’re all in this together to serve our community in any way that we can,” she concluded.

This story was originally published by the Jamestown Gazette. Read the story by Joni Blackman here.