Thirty members of the Kentucky National Guard began a month-long deployment Wednesday at Pikeville Medical Center, where they will support the hospital’s response to an unprecedented number of patients with COVID-19.

Guardsmen were also sent to hospitals in Bowling Green and Morehead.

As hospitals across the state and nation are overwhelmed with coronavirus, the guardsmen will help understaffed facilities care for the sick sooner.

Pikeville Medical Center employs 3,000 people and has 200 job openings.

In Pikeville, they will help with non-medical duties, such as transporting patients within the hospital, helping with janitorial duties and managing traffic control at the vaccination drive-thru, which reopened Wednesday.

Hospital CEO and President Donovan Blackburn said it was a relief to have the help of the Kentucky National Guard.

“They’re helping us battle this pandemic,” he said Tuesday. “…There are people today that are fighting for their lives in our ICU.”

Early this week, the hospital had 82 Covid-positive patients.

At its peak last winter, the hospital had 83 patients. Blackburn said he expects hospitalizations will reach a plateau in the next two to three weeks and then begin to decrease.

“The problem with that ... is it’s going to take much longer to get back to where we need to be versus how quickly we got here,” he said.

Blackburn said it is surreal to have the Kentucky National Guard in the hospital, something he has not seen in his career.

“Not only to realize that the National Guard is here to help, but they’re in a hospital should speak volumes of what’s going on,” Blackburn said.

On Tuesday, the guardsmen learned how to properly wear personal protective equipment, sanitize and avoid being exposed to pathogens, in order to start assisting hospital staff Wednesday.

“The key is that by us doing that it enables the actual clinical staff to do the life-saving work that right now their hands are tied,” said Capt. Kerby Schwer, the officer in charge of the Kentucky National Guard Covid response team.

Schwer said it is an absolute honor and privilege to help fight the pandemic.

“This is the kind of stuff I signed up for,” he said. “This is one of the reasons I’m a guard is to help communities. It really is a war that we’re fighting against Covid.”

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