Kemp deploys National Guard to help nursing homes battle virus

Governor Brian Kemp on Tuesday ordered the Georgia National Guard to assist senior care homes battle the coronavirus. His office said the missions will be in cooperatiion with the Georgia Department of Public Health, whose Commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, is seen here with the governor. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Governor Brian Kemp on Tuesday ordered the Georgia National Guard to assist senior care homes battle the coronavirus. His office said the missions will be in cooperatiion with the Georgia Department of Public Health, whose Commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, is seen here with the governor. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

The state will deploy more than 100 Georgia National Guardsmen to assisted-living facilities and nursing homes with coronavirus cases to help limit exposure to the disease among the most vulnerable residents.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced the deployment Tuesday as the state’s long-term care system is starting to feel strains from the pandemic. More than 30 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have residents who tested positive, according to an estimate Tuesday by the Georgia Health Care Association, the state’s largest long-term care trade association.

The Rome Health & Rehabilitation Center nursing home confirmed Monday that 11 residents had tested positive for the virus, and a pair of nursing homes in southwest Georgia have been dealing with significant outbreaks in recent weeks.

“Georgia’s top priority is increasing healthcare capacity to protect vulnerable Georgians, especially those residing in long-term care facilities,” Kemp said.

Twenty soldiers were deployed Tuesday to Pelham Parkway Nursing Home, where there have been five confirmed cases of COVID-19, Kemp’s office said. The unit will audit existing sanitation methods at the facility, train staff on more aggressive infectious disease control measures and give the facility a thorough cleaning, according to the governor’s office.

The large force is needed, in part, to help train the soldiers. Most deployments to facilities will involve up to five soldiers.

The announcement Tuesday expands the governor’s use of the National Guard to assist medical facilities. On Friday, he announced roughly a dozen deployments of guard medical teams to various hospitals across the state.

The guard has been assisting since last week in Albany at Phoebe Putney Medical Center — the largest hospital in southwest Georgia, which is the state’s current coronavirus hotspot. The guard also has been assisting PruittHealth Palmyra, one of the nursing homes in the area that’s been dealing with an outbreak. On Tuesday, the local coroner confirmed that at least four residents at the facility died from the virus.

Kemp said the guard deployment is designed to take pressure off the state’s health system during this critical time.

“If we can keep these populations as healthy as possible, we will be able to conserve precious medical supplies and hospital bed space in the coming days and weeks,” he said.

Tony Marshall, president/CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association, said the help from the National Guard will be welcome relief.

“This support is critical, as it will help to supplement staffing and infection prevention efforts,” he said. “Such assistance is especially needed as a large number of center staff across the state are being required to self-quarantine until testing for the virus can be completed.”