FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A hospital in Fort Collins needed help – and that's when the military arrived to treat COVID patients.
The Department of Defense (DOD) COVID surge teams only respond to the hospitals that are most overwhelmed and they are now leaving after a month in Colorado.
For weeks, they've helped exhausted nurses and doctors at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital treat hundreds of COVID patients, taking a burden off the overwhelmed healthcare workers in Fort Collins.
"It’s emotional sometimes having to continue coming back everyday knowing that you have no idea what’s going to happen that day," said Reatha Blumenthal, an emergency department nurse at the hospital. "It’s been really nice to have some help and take off a little bit of the stress that we feel from it."
Nearly two years into a pandemic, the hospital in Fort Collins needed help and the Air Force responded.
Twenty people from the Department of Defense and FEMA medical surge teams stayed in Colorado for around a month to treat COVID patients and help give staff members at the hospital a break.
"You get tired and there’s burnout and things get put on the backburner like your own mental well-being," said Syd Cerizo, a progressive care unit nurse. "It’s just what you do. You take care of people regardless of how stressful it might be, how busy it might get."
Captain Troy Geier, Major Peter Johnson and Major Sharlott Uriarte travel the world with the DOD, providing support to the hospitals that need it most. They're just three of the Air Force service members who deployed to Fort Collins to help treat COVID patients.
"This is one of those times in your career where you’re always going to look back at what you were doing during the COVID pandemic," said Johnson, an internal medicine physician with the Air Force.
A month ago, they arrived in Fort Collins at the height of the COVID surge and now they’re leaving, wondering what town will need them next.
"My family keeps me going. I feel like I’m doing something important to protect my family also," said Uriarte, a surgical nurse with the Air Force. "My kids definitely look at the calendar everyday and ask me when I’m going to be home."
The DOD team members will head out over the next week. They’re ready to be deployed again wherever they’re needed, though they’re not sure if or when that’ll happen. For now, they’ll spend some time back home in Washington, D.C. working their day jobs as doctors and nurses.
"It’s just an instant connection. You have to be going through it to understand it," said Troy Geier, an ICU nurse with the Air Force. "It just shows us we’re all in this together. We are coming from the east coast, all the way over here."
It’s not just providing support to the hospital, it’s also sharing information and teaching each other about what they know. The DOD team has military training which they shared with the doctors and nurses in Fort Collins. Things like resilience and dealing with stress that you can’t teach in a classroom.
"You can actually notice that the nurses on the floor are smiling more and laughing more. You would not see that a month ago. No joke, you would not see that a month ago," said Cerizo.
Now the military support is leaving, hoping they don't need to return.
"I hope if we do need them we can ask them to come back," Cerizo said laughing. "I hope it’s that easy. I don’t know."
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