California Guard medical unit deep in the COVID-19 fight

The California Army National Guard’s Pfc. Michael Daggi of the California National Guard Medical Detachment instructs California Emergency Medical Service Authority (EMSA) staff members on properly applying personal protective equipment March 27 at a San Mateo County, California, COVID-19 treatment facility. Cal Guard’s medical teams are actively assisting local and state agencies to contain the coronavirus epidemic. This treatment facility houses patients who tested positive for COVID-19. (Army National Guard photograph by Staff Sgt. Edward Siguenza)

In this facility, there’s no social distancing due to COVID-19. Everything the California National Guard does is hands-on.

These members of the California National Guard and California State Guard troops from the California National Guard Medical Detachment have weighty responsibilities. Inside, they’re physicians and nurse practitioners who treat patients. Outside, they’re partners and coordinators with the California Emergency Medical Services Authority and other local agencies treating people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The National Guard came up with a map on how the flow of operation is going to be,” said Capt. John Mullee. “We assisted and designed this hospital decompression unit with Cal EMSA. The goal is to essentially decompress local hospitals and ensure the San Mateo (County) hospital and health care systems are not overwhelmed.”

Mullee and a handful of medical staff rotate duties as doctors. They’re diagnosing people with illnesses and determining their care. Patients are treated in a temporary facility that county leaders deemed sufficient in this emergency period.

Members of the Guard set up a mobile pharmacy. The medical detachment includes doctors, physicians, nurses, medics and behavioral health officers. They’re adjusting to additional roles such as communication specialists, logistics personnel, site directors and even security.

“This operation is pretty dynamic,” said Mullee. “We’re doing total care of these patients. We’re providing them medication, we’re ensuring they’re safe. If it needs to be done, we’re taking care of it. Our medics are phenomenal.”

Before troops enter “the hot zone,” they must be respirator trained and obtain personal protective equipment. Precautions are priority. Only medical personnel are allowed into the building.

Although temporary, this facility is relatively protected. A fence was erected and security guards monitor every outside corner. Even the name of the building – originally a popular hotel – is covered.

“It’s pretty well secured,” Mullee said.

“We’ve been asked to provide an alternative care site,” said Jeremy Caudillo, EMSA senior emergency services coordinator. “We have to accept patients. Hospitals are getting inundated and they’re trying to get more rooms for patients who are trying to get in.

“The California National Guard provided medical capabilities that we need to sustain these guests,” he said. “It’s a benefit they’re here. The whole state of California, as well as the nation, is stressed medically for personnel. Having that Guard resource to be a part of this mission helps us fulfill a capability that we’re being asked to provide.”

Caudillo said Cal EMSA came to set up the site and asked the National Guard to assist.

Nearly two dozen National Guard and State Guard troops work day and night in the compound.

“They were very welcoming and wanted to join the fight,” Caudillo said of the Cal Guard. “Having them here for this medical mission greatly improved our response time.”

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