Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Facing Staff Shortages, Billings Clinic Requests National Guard Assistance

Kay Erickson

Montana’s largest hospital is asking Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office to deploy the National Guard to assist doctors and nurses who are stretched thin by the growing surge in COVID-19 cases. This is the second request for assistance in the last month.

Billings Clinic Chief Nursing Officer Laurie Smith says the hospital is in talks with Gov. Gianforte’s office about deploying the National Guard to assist with non-clinical work like turning COVID patients into different positions that can help them breathe. Smith says that will free nurses and nursing assistants to treat patients, who she says have been sicker than any other time during the pandemic.

“Our ICU is 28 beds and we have 40 ICU patients currently.”

Smith says nearly half of ICU patients are being treated for COVID and many are on ventilators. Nearly all COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

“We continue to have patients who come in with COVID and are hospitalized that didn’t think that they would contract COVID, and many who have verbalized regretting not being vaccinated prior to contracting COVID and being hospitalized.”

A spokesperson with Gianforte’s office says they’re talking with Billings Clinic about deploying National Guard troops, but did not say whether the governor planned to do so. The Montana Hospital Association made a similar request two weeks ago, but a spokesperson says MHA hadn’t heard anything from Gianforte’s office as of last week.

MHA also asked the governor’s office to utilize federal COVID relief money to acquire more traveling medical staff.

Smith with Billings Clinic says the hospital has had little luck obtaining traveling clinical staff. She says the hospital needs about 200 nurses and nursing assistants just to keep up.

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.