Meet the Army general who brought reinforcements to help fight coronavirus

Posted Apr 25, 2020

For overwhelmed medical workers, the sight of U.S. Army doctors and nurses is a relief in their ongoing fight against the coronavirus.

“When we go to a hospital, the staff is so grateful,” said Lt. General Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, which is working with FEMA in seven states on the COVID-19 response. “They were at the tipping point and our folks showed up in the nick of time.”

Known as an urban augmentation task force, her team is made up of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and administrators from Army reserve hospitals. Together, they make up 15 task forces that have been deployed to 20 hospitals, she said. Army reservists work in tandem with hospital staff or in new wings that have opened up in medical centers.

The task is daunting. Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 topped 100,000 on Friday.

Army medical personnel are helping front line medical workers with the patient load at the three field hospitals set up in major convention centers, where 98 patients are being cared for, as of Friday. And at University Hospital, where COVID-19 treatment spaces were added by putting beds in the dentistry wing, since those areas had oxygen available, Richardson said.

“They were embraced in every hospital. I feel like we were able to show up and do a small part for them,” Richardson said. “It’s a unity of effort. Our folks show up, ready to go.”

“There are many ways. They can come in and take over shifts,” she added. “Maybe (hospital staff) have been working 12-hour shifts and we can reduce it to 8 hours.”

University Hospital officials said their staff benefited tremendously with the Army medical personnel by their side.

“It is hard to find the words to thank the United States Army for the support they have given us in the last two weeks. They arrived when we needed them most, and immediately filled critical staffing gaps,” said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, University Hospital President and CEO. “While we all appreciate what the Armed Forces does, most of us don’t get to see it and understand firsthand. At our hospital, we now understand. These brave men and women will forever be part of the University Hospital family.”

Have her people been able to keep out of harms way? For the most part, yes, with just 1% of the 9,000 people in her command testing positive for coronavirus and being quarantined, Richardson said. One reason for that is training to properly wear their masks and protective gear, she said.

If there is a second wave of COVID-19, the Army will come back, after the state has exhausted its resources and requests assistance, she said. In addition to COVID-19, her Army command also has to prepare for hurricane season.

“We’re thinking through how does COVID-19 change our response,” Richardson said.

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