National Guard Brings Critical Geriatric Care to Pennsylvania Nursing Homes

By Mahshie, Abraham | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, May 29, 2020 | Go to article overview

National Guard Brings Critical Geriatric Care to Pennsylvania Nursing Homes


Mahshie, Abraham, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


When coronavirus lockdowns began across the nation, those most vulnerable were also seemingly those whom the military were least qualified to care for.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned that soldiers were trained for trauma injuries and battlefield wounds. Domestic deployments were a new challenge. Meanwhile, nursing home infections were raging, and some caretakers were sickened or refused to go to work.

In Pennsylvania, that changed when two geriatric doctors shed their civilian coats for a National Guard uniform.

“It's really reinforced my feeling of being a civilian soldier,” said Lt. Col. Rick Fogle, 67, a geriatric doctor in Pittsburgh who, along with Lt. Col. John Peacock, 50, helped train young soldiers to assist thousands of Pennsylvania nursing home residents.

Sending 20-something-year-old National Guard soldiers into nursing homes is not the mission one weekend a month prepared them to do.

“The average run of the mill young soldier — 20, 22, 24 — is not familiar with a geriatric patient who is a dementia patient, and they need special handling,” Fogle told the Washington Examiner, describing some of the most challenging guidance he provided.

“I told them that [for] a dementia patient, you may see them, and they may not recognize you, or they may call you their granddaughter,” he said of a conversation he had with a young soldier at a nursing home in western Pennsylvania Tuesday.

“If they do, just work with it, just go ahead. Be kind. Be gentle. Say, ‘Yes, grandma,’” he continued. “It better prepared them if they had to take care of a geriatric patient or test the geriatric patient for COVID.”

Peacock, a geriatric doctor in suburban Philadelphia who served for more than 20 years in the Navy, helped create a training program for soldiers to learn the fundamentals of caring for the elderly.

“Things like activities of daily living, how to feed a patient, how to bathe a patient, how to lift a patient, all of these types of things that these guys would never have dealt with before, but they did it,” he told the Washington Examiner.

Peacock and Fogle assessed the needs at 23 nursing homes across the state, filling staffing shortages at 11 residences and training caretakers on the proper use of personal protective equipment.

Fogle said he recently passed a crowd of family members waiting outside one facility, unable to see their loved ones. He knew that the Guard soldiers he was training might represent the only human contact for those family members.

He told the family that soldiers would be coming in to assist with daily upkeep, sanitation, and teaching caretakers how to use PPE.

“The family was just overwhelmed,” he recalled. “They had so much anxiety about what's going on because they can't see their family anymore. And then to know that the National Guard was sending troops in to supplement and take care of their family members. I mean, they had tears in their eyes.”

The uniforms mattered. …

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