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Last of the military medical teams wrap up COVID mission at U of U Hospital

The last medical military team heads home after completing their COVID clinical response mission.
Charlie Ehlert
University of Utah Health
The last medical military team heads home after completing their COVID clinical response mission.

As a part of a federal response to the pandemic, 68 U.S. military medical teams were deployed to hospitals around the country during the last year. The last of those crews completed their mission Wednesday at the University of Utah Hospital.

A team of about 20 U.S. Navy medical personnel first arrived at the beginning of March 2022 to help staff open hospital beds for elective surgeries. The university had been delaying elective procedures due to staffing shortages and recent COVID surges.

Dr. Kencee Graves, associate chief medical officer of inpatient health at the university, said they helped clear about a quarter of the 500 elective surgeries they had backlogged.

“That's not very many at all but when you start to think about how long is a patient in that bed? And it's one to three days,” she said. “You can get a lot of patients through a short number of beds. So for what we had closed, we opened about a third to half of them.”

As the crew leaves, she said they are prepared to manage the best they can — keeping beds open and ready to face the possibility of another surge.

“It's not about the plan, it's about the planning,” she said. “So the process of going through what your institution or your system can do is more important than what gets written on the paper. And so we've got lots of plans, but what we've learned and how we apply, that is what's more important.”

Graves said the 30-day deployment allowed some of their staff to finally take a long-awaited day off.

“We have not had to call in a backup physician for our hospital medicine teams,” she said. “So what that means to our staff is they get to have days off that are planned to be off, and that means a lot.”

Lt. Greta Stevens, a critical care nurse in the U.S. Navy, who was stationed at the hospital, said these deployments were a learning opportunity for their next mission.

“We can take experiences from each of the different places that we've been in and bring it into new teams,” Stevens said. “So more to the adaptability and resilience that they spoke to is why we’re here.”

Michael L. Good, CEO of University of Utah Health, thanked the military and their willingness to support their health care workers.

“We encourage our staff to take care of themselves so they can take care of one another and their patients,” he said. “And together we take care of our community. I want to thank the U.S. Navy medical team [that] came to our aid so we could fulfill that mission.”

Utah’s positivity rate is now below 3%, at the end of January, it was nearly 30%.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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