Navy medical team joins Bellin Health as COVID-19 overwhelms hospitals

Navy medical team at Bellin
Navy medical team at Bellin
Published: Dec. 29, 2021 at 4:52 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2021 at 4:22 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Members of a 23-person Navy medical team are working side-by-side with doctors and nurses at Bellin Health as they treat patients with COVID-19 and other illnesses.

The Navy personnel include doctors, critical care nurses and respiratory therapists. They’re coming at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is also deploying teams to Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Colorado, Montana and New Mexico.

“Starting today, the Navy team is working side by side with our staff in the areas of the emergency department, medical unit, with our hospitalist team and intensivist team, in critical care, and with our respiratory therapists,” said Bellin Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Laura Hieb. “They are being integrated into our assisting teams and will assist in areas of greatest need throughout the hospital including but not necessarily limited to caring for COVID-19 patients.”

Bellin Health President and CEO Chris Woleske believes Bellin was chosen for the FEMA help because they have recently constructed areas in the hospital that can be utilized by extra personnel and increase capacity. Woleske says the extra help will allow them to treat more patients and not have to divert those patients to hospitals outside of the area.

“While I can’t say for sure, I do think it’s partly because we were able to show specific space within our hospital that we recently constructed and that if we had staff, we would be able to treat patients. This additional space along with the medical personnel from the US Navy will allow us to increase our capacity and welcome more patients, but we have to remember this assistance is temporary. We will still need the help of everyone in this community to lower COVID-19 spread knowing that our guests will be leaving us in 30 days,” said Woleske.

The team arrived at Bellin on Tuesday.

“They’ve toured our facilities and they’re becoming very familiar with them. As of today, they’re trading in their navy green for Bellin blue scrubs as they begin their first shifts as full fledged members of our medical team,” said Woleske.

The Navy team is expected to help for 30 days.

“Their support will be very helpful as we head into the New Year following a holiday season that will likely bring an increased case volume,” said Hieb.

The Navy team will not be in military gear. They will wear traditional scrubs and clinical dress.

“The members of the deployment team are experienced health care professionals. Therefore, they come with skills that can easily acclimate in our environment,” said Hieb.

Navy Captain John H. Callahan is the Officer in Charge of Medical Response Team 5. He broke down the makeup of the Navy team.

“All of us are active duty, so we have daytime jobs, and the jobs are the same. You get a critical care use filling a critical care billet. We have a critical care nurses here. Those are the nurses when you go into an ICU and you see the tubes and the very sick patient there and that highly-skilled professional that’s managing all of that, that is a critical care nurse. We have a cadre of them here. We have respiratory therapists. If you have someone who is intubated or needs some airway management, we have respiratory therapists who work alongside hospitalists or internal medicine physicians or pulmonologists to manage that patient, so we have respiratory therapists here as well. We have some internal medicine doctors who work on the ward as a hospitalist and provide overnight coverage, admission orders, management of the patient, whatever they need to do with respective health care teams. We have a pulmonologist. Some people call them a critical care doctor, intensivist. It’s a very highly-skilled medicine person who does advanced pulmonary disease management. We also have someone who is board certified as internist and nephrology. We have some emergency medicine nurses as well as some medical surgical nurses,” Callahan said.

Woleske and Hieb say they are grateful for the help, and thankful for their own team of health care heroes.

“While our health care heroes are in need of a rest, they have been volunteering to take extra shifts, cross-training to new roles, filling in for each other to give their peers a break, stepping up with positivity,” said Hieb.

Woleske hopes other local hospitals will receive help, too.

“We know that other Wisconsin hospitals are also facing staffing and capacity challenges and we certainly hope to see more of them see more of this same type of assistance in the near future,” says Woleske.

Meanwhile, the plea continues for people to take steps against spreading the virus.

“Omicron is causing a rapid increase in disease activity. Hospital systems under tremendous strain. Patients may not be able to receive care due to a lack of hospital capacity. Please as New Year’s Eve approaches, make a small sacrifice. Celebrate safely. Keep gatherings small. It’s a small thing. Social distancing is important. Masking is back everybody. This effort truly does help. Get vaccinated against COVID. Boosters have become critical. Bellin Health is here for you. Yes, we are tried but we’re not going anywhere. W are here to treat you and support you. We need your help to keep our staff and communities safe to make this season a festive celebration,” said Woleske.

Gov. Tony Evers requested military medical help from FEMA.

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