Minnesota National Guard leaves last nursing homes after COVID deployment

The Minnesota National Guard left its last nursing home on Tuesday, March 8, the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed at a Senate Aging Committee meeting Wednesday morning. The Guard had been deployed to 50 nursing homes to ease staffing shortages during the fall and winter COVID-19 wave.

On Nov. 22, 2021, Gov. Tim Walz activated the Minnesota National Guard to form "response teams" to provide support to long-term care facilities facing severe staffing shortages.

Guard members were trained as certified nursing assistants and temporary nursing aides to fill gaps at nursing homes that asked for help from the state.

Virtually none of the Guard members had prior experience in nursing. The National Guard didn't want to take its members who are health care workers away from their civilian jobs to put them in uniform, said Lt. Col. Brian Douty, the officer in charge of the COVID-19 response.

"This is very new to a lot of these soldiers and airmen," Douty said in a December interview. "I have no doubt our soldiers are going to be ready once they get into these facilities to conduct the same level of care that the current staff is."

LeadingAge Minnesota, a trade group that represents senior care facilities, estimates that 23,000 jobs are open -- 20 percent of the industry's workforce. About 70 percent of the state's nursing homes are limiting the number of residents because of staffing problems, said Kari Thurlow, the group's senior vice president of advocacy.