JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. --
First thing you will see when you arrive at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park is the staff being temperature tested before entering the Home.
New Jersey Army National Guard Soldiers are doing the testing.
More than 60 New Jersey Army National Guard Soldiers from the 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, as well as seven Airmen from the 108th Wing and 177th Fighter Wing, have been assigned to the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park in Edison, N.J., to assist the Home’s civilian staff in caring for the residents during the COVID-19 crisis. The Army Guard medics are providing palliative care while the Air Guard support staff are assisting the medics and civilian staff with administrative work.
“The great thing about having the Army and Air National Guard as a part of our Department is that we are one team,” said Sean P. VanLew Sr., Director, Veterans Healthcare Services for the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (NJDMAVA). “So when there is a need, we can fill the need.”
Nationwide, there are more than 33,000 Air and Army National Guard professionals supporting the COVID-19 crisis response at the direction of their governors.
The Army Guard Soldiers assigned to Menlo Park are mostly combat medics, equivalent to an emergency medical technician, with approximately 17 serving each of the two day-shifts and eight during night shift.
“We’re helping the certified nursing assistants by taking vital signs, feeding the residents, moving them, keeping them ambulatory, taking them to the bathroom, changing their bedding and clothes,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Charles, Noncommissioned Officer in Charge. “The big thing is really to help out the nurses, techs, doctors, nurse practitioners, CNAs. They are the ones doing the brunt of the work. We are just helping out.
Charles, who has served with the 1-102 Cavalry for more than seven years was impressed with the work the Menlo Park staff are doing.
“The residents’ families can rest assured knowing their family members are getting taken care of,” said Charles. “I see the same people when I come in, when I leave and when I come back the next day. We (The Soldiers and Airmen) are doing eight hour shifts, but they’ve been doing 16 hour shifts; sometimes, not taking days off at all and they are still here day-in and day-out.”
In addition to medical support, New Jersey National Guardsmen are helping to connect family members to residents, electronically. As the novel coronavirus spread throughout the state, visits to Veterans homes, nursing homes, and hospitals have been restricted.
The lack of visitation has created unavoidable apprehension and worry for family members. Having the Guard at the Home has helped increase communication flow between residents, loved ones, and staff.
“A few days after the start of our orders, they brought in additional support staff and put non-medical personnel at each nursing station in each wing to help answer the phones,” said Sgt. Kenneth Wise, a Combat Medic with the 1st Battalion, 114th Infantry Regiment, and the second shift NCO. “It has taken the burden off of the nursing staff as well as the medics.”
The love and care the residents receive from the full-time NJDMAVA staff has been eye-opening experience for the Soldiers and Airmen.
“I have a whole new level of respect for the staff, “said Charles. “After working two hours into the shift with them, and seeing what they do day-in and day-out to make sure these residents get proper care, it just blows my mind. I wish more people knew what they do”
As the Guardsmen serve the Menlo Park residents, their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
“We could not have done this without their support,” said VanLew. “Were it not for their support and assistance, we could not do it. We’ll be eternally grateful for their support.”