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Minnesota National Guard soldiers begin training in Austin for nursing relief

More than 400 Minnesota National Guard members are training to help short-staffed long-term care facilities across the state.

Riverland Community College logo

AUSTIN — The cram session is underway as more than 400 students complete 75 hours of training to help health care facilities across Minnesota.

Members of the Minnesota National Guard have begun intensive training to deploy to long-term care facilities throughout the state.

Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, Nov. 22, ordered more than 400 members of the Guard to deploy to the facilities to help depleted and overworked staff.

Before they report for duty, the Minnesota Department of Health requires nursing assistants and home health care assistants to have 75 hours of training.

On Sunday, that meant a 12-hour day of instruction for Kara De La Fosse, director of Riverland Community College’s nursing assistant and home health care education programs.

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Those kinds of days aren’t new for her.

“It was nothing to work 12-hour, 16-hour shifts,” she said of her nursing experience.

De La Fosse reported for work at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, and worked with students throughout the day.

She’ll be back at it again Monday.

“I really don’t mind,” she said during a short break Sunday evening. “I’m happy to be part of this initiative.”

The initiative is intended to ease an industry that was already understaffed before the COVID-19 pandemic. To back the deployment, Walz also requested to use $50 million in unspent federal coronavirus relief funding to help nursing and long-term care facilities hire and retain staff.

De La Fosse said even before COVID-19 made working at the facilities more challenging and demanding, long-term care facilities faced nursing shortages.

“There always seems to be a critical shortage of nursing assistants and nurses,” she said.

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The National Guard soldiers are committing to 75 hours of training crammed into one week. After that, they’ll step into long working hours.

Students at Riverland are learning the basics of home health care aid, De La Fosse added. That includes helping people with mobility limitations with day-to-day activities. Students learn how to help people transfer to and from bed, or to and from wheelchairs or walkers.

“We look at how to meet their needs holistically,” she said.

While the training and the job will require long hours, the profession tends to attract people who are passionate about helping people, which makes the hours pass a bit easier.

“Ultimately, when you’re passionate about your job and you're happy to be part of a team and you know you’re helping people, it’s a commitment you find that you can make,” De La Fosse said.

This initiative to help long-term care facilities follows Walz’s announcement the week before that the U.S. Department of Defense is sending medical teams to help relieve doctors and nurses at two major Minnesota hospitals.

Related Topics: AUSTINMOWER COUNTY
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